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Version I; Volume V.

Chapter XXI.

Darcy made his way slowly back to Rosings Park that night. He wished for solitude most, being not one of those whose happiness overflows in mirth, and knew that the sooner he returned to his Aunt's, the less likely he would be able to procure it. Absently he allowed a sigh to escape from him, as he made his way along the short lane that divided Rosings from Hunsford.

A part of him was still in disbelief at all which had occurred this evening. When he had left his Aunt's- much to that formidable woman's annoyance, though he was one of the few who could stand up to Lady Catherine - Darcy had not entertained any hope of the kind that he would be accepted.

Feelings aside, when it came down to practicalities, he was only the son of an ancient if still respectable and influential, landed gentry family, with no title, and, officially at least,- for privately it was a great deal more -ten thousand a year. Proposing to the most eligible Countess in the kingdom was a presumption in itself, let alone adding to it the thought that one might be accepted.

He knew full well what Society would think of the union, even without their jealousy at not being able to catch either of them first. But he did not care what Society thought. He knew his own heart well enough to discount any possibility to himself that he was asking purely out of mercenary means. And by now, he hoped he knew hers well enough as well.

Darcy made his way up the steps that led to the chequered Entrance Hall. He opened the front door carefully, making sure to close it without any undue noise. He had crossed the short space from the doors to the main staircase, when he heard the footfalls of someone coming his way.

Sighing in annoyance at having been so close and yet so far in achieving his goal, Darcy quickened his pace, the need for avoiding detection now negated. When he had reached the first landing, the footfalls increasing their nearness all the while, and acquiring a certain familiarity, he was brought to a halt by the voice of his cousin, who had returned to Rosings somewhat sooner than he..

"Darcy," Richard began, coming to a halt in the middle of the Hall, "we quite despaired of you!"

"Is that my nephew?" called an authoritative tone from the room which the Colonel had just quitted. "Let him come in and explain himself."

"No, forgive me," Darcy spoke quickly, and the last thing he wanted now was for Lady Catherine to hear, when none of Elizabeth's- he could call her Elizabeth now, in both mind and speech, without any restraint -family even knew about it yet. Already he half expected what her response would be.

"If you will excuse me I have a pressing matter of business." He made a move to cover the remaining set of steps. "Make my apologies to Lady Catherine, Fitzwilliam," he added, before disappearing out of sight, leaving his military minded cousin to ponder at the sudden strategy for retreat, and the reason for his absence this evening.

Inside the privacy of his room, Darcy went to his window, leaning an arm upon the frame to support himself as he gazed out upon the prospect before him. His mind was far from Rosings's formal gardens however. Already it had returned to Hunsford, and the rooms which the lady to whom he had long given his heart might be occupied in.

He wondered what she was thinking. If he had managed to dissuade her of the idea that she could ever be unworthy of him, when the opposite was quite clearly the case. She deserved the best, and he was determined that from this moment on, she was going to get it. In his mind's eye, he recalled vividly her expression when she had finally accepted him.

With delight he noted the beauty of her fine eyes as she mulled over their kiss, and her hesitation as she returned the gesture which he had first bestowed upon her. He was pleased that she had consented to a courtship, knowing that she was still not ready for another marriage, even though in his heart he was more than ready to marry her. But his affairs, despite the ground work having been laid out during his separation from her in London, were in no state to welcome the new mistress of Pemberley.

Pemberley's State rooms had been shut up since the death of his mother, his father having never been able to bear sleeping in them after losing his wife, and Darcy himself had seen no need to move from his rooms when he had become master of the estate five years ago.

The rooms of the town house were a little better, but still untouched for over ten years. There were also the preparations to be made for the transferring of those duties usually reserved for the mistress of the house, which he had taken over so much of since his majority.

He also wished for Elizabeth to be happy, to choose her own time, rather than he or any others dictating it for her. An image suddenly appeared before his mind's eye; of his days now fulfilled with complete contentment, spent forever by her side at their home in Derbyshire. Pemberley had been calling out for a new mistress ever since the loss of Lady Anne.

Before Elizabeth, Darcy had only pictured Georgiana as the woman to fulfil that role, never expecting to meet anyone whom he could love. Now, he could not imagine anyone else who would perform the role better than the woman who held his heart.

Reluctantly, Darcy now forced his mind away from these musings. He had spoken the truth to his cousin when he had said that he had a 'pressing matter of business' to attend to, though it was not exactly business. One as close to a sister as he, could never call writing to her a matter of business. He withdrew from the window to his writing table, took out a number of crested papers from a drawer, dipped his pen into the ink pot and began;

Rosings Park,

April 9th

My dear Georgie,

Your brother writes to you with the happiest of tidings. Indeed, he is so content at this moment, that he can barely give thought to forming his usual coherent sentences.

You will deplore the structure of this letter, but I hope soon forget its mistakes, when I inform you of the reason why this is so.

A few hours ago, upon this very evening, I asked the Countess of Saffron Walden to be my wife.

As a result of the discussion which I had with my Aunt concerning her wish for myself and Anne to unite our great estates, I made my way over to the Parsonage and made the Countess the offer of my hand.

You can have no doubt of the answer being to my liking; I can now call her Elizabeth in both mind and speech without any restraint.

She had some difficulty in believing herself worthy of me, which to my mind is still an absurd notion, but one that I hope I have managed to dissuade her of.

I am not worthy of her, that is the truth. You will protest to that I know, but it is so. Your brother is not perfect, no matter how hard he tries to be for his sister's sake.

I hope you find me much happier from now on, Georgie. Indeed, perhaps the both of us have needed an addition to our small family for some time. I have no doubt of you and Elizabeth becoming the closest of sisters and best of friends.

I sit in my room at Rosings, avoiding our Aunt and cousins, even Richard, far too happy at the moment to inform any one else of my news, save you.

I hope you will not brush this compliment modestly away, but I have been so proud of you my dear Georgie, ever since we returned from Ramsgate.

You have been a wonderful balm to my heart and thoughts whenever I had despaired of ever having a hope of succeeding. Every day I see you happy and unaffected makes me thus also.

You have become so much more confident, and yet remained the sweet girl I have always adored ever since I had the honour to first call you sister.

There are times when I cross the open door of the music room, look up to see you in your private concert, and almost see the image of our mother before my eyes.

You look so much like her. She would be very proud of you if she could see you now. And I am sure she does in spirit.

Forgive me, I did not mean to get so nostalgic. I hope you are still enjoying your time in London. I promise to rejoin you soon, and I think you know now what has kept me here, and it was not the delightful company of our Aunt.

Apart from Elizabeth, I delay departure for another, though he will deny all knowledge of what I sure he is feeling. He is rapidly falling victim I believe to the same spell that I am under, and the fair maiden is Elizabeth's friend, Miss Lucas.

Do not tease him and let on that what I suspect when you next write to him, though I expect the matter to be brought to a successful conclusion soon.

With regards to the wedding, there will be some time passed before that most joyful day. Elizabeth wishes for a long courtship in order to become accustomed to being married again, and I am happy to wait until she is as willing as I.

Preparations need to be made, though my accounts have long been ready for a wife- I happened upon them before I left for Kent, as you can well testify, catching me as you did musing over how well her name looked entwined with mine when you called me to dinner -everything else is not.

My present hope is for it to be in the summer, and, if I can persuade her and everyone else, at Pemberley's chapel. I have no desire for the wedding of the century, Society will have to be content with their imaginations about the event.

I hope you will include your congratulations and joy not only to myself but to your new sister in your next letter to her. Until then, I must bid you farewell.

I remain your loving brother

Fitzwilliam Darcy.


Chapter XXII.

The next morning, Lady Catherine was informed of the match. Her heart and mind were still saddened by the news which he and her daughter had relayed to her the night before, and she quite despaired of her nephew for allowing himself to be drawn in by the upstart pretensions of a woman who had little to recommend her, save for having once been the wife of her late godson, and who, in thanks to the perverseness of his earldom, had no need to attach herself to one so as eligible as her nephew in order to ensure the continuation of that title.

However, she soon came to realise of the advantages that the title and wealth in estates which the earldom brought with it, would benefit both herself and her family. After all, as her nephew had pointed out, he would need an heir, which her daughter could not supply. She comforted herself also with the possibility of her daughter outliving the Countess, whereupon Darcy might be driven to seeking another wife, an office which Anne could then supply.

Had Darcy known the truth of his Aunt's less than graceful reconciliation to his forthcoming union, he would have been far more unwilling to forgive her, for such a prospect could not be further from his mind. However, he was also anxious that no discord served to sour the remainder of his and the Countess' stay in the country, for their presence would prove a useful distraction in engaging Lady Catherine's curiosity away from another possible courtship.

In the afternoon, Colonel Fitzwilliam was informed of the match. Not surprisingly, Richard was very happy for his cousin. Having been a close friend to Darcy for much of their lives, he had become a witness to many of his cousin's sorrows, such as the loss of a beloved mother, of a once close childhood friend, of a beloved father, and the near elopement of his sister. To hear him exult in happiness once again, was music to the Colonel's ears.

The Countess was just the sort of woman whom Richard believed Darcy needed: sensible, witty, lively and clever, the perfect complement to his cousin's almost habitual reticence. There were times, as Richard observed over the days, when there was only the talk of his Aunt to capture his attention, when his cousin could barely hold back a smile, or make greater moves to resist the persuasions of a match between himself and the heiress of Rosings.

As for Richard himself, he was far from disapproving of the marriage state in general, as he once may have been disposed to do so. For quite some time now, he had ceased to consider himself the perpetual bachelor. He did not look upon the disadvantages of the state first, as he had used to when previously debating it within his mind.

Instead he considered all the advantages it could afford him, and the real affection of a lifelong partner whom he was not considering to take out of mercenary reasons. He realised now how much influence he had access to in order to further his military career, which before now only a consideration of pride in his profession had prevented him from taking advantage of. And how much his father would be willing to assist him, if he presented before him a bride whom he truly cared for.

All these objections now being entirely swept away, Richard prepared his battle plan, informed the troops of his mind of his wishes for the outcome of the engagement, and, nine days after his cousin's attempt, set out to win the war.

He walked with Darcy to the Parsonage as usual, made the appropriate greetings to its owner, Mrs Collins and the Countess. Then, after he had seen his cousin happily installed in the company of his future bride, requested the honour of a walk with the woman he hoped to soon become his own.

They set out in the direction of Rosings, taking the path that led the way through a certain favourite grove, which Richard made sure to reach the assured solitude of, before coming to halt.

"Miss Lucas," he then began, gently taking her hands in his, "in my life I have faced many dangers, but none so treacherous, I believe, as this path." He dropped gracefully, as a credit to his profession, to one knee. "Dearest Charlotte, for that you will always be, would you do me the great honour of letting me become your husband? I know I do not have much in the way of comfort or security to offer you, but I can freely offer you my heart, which will, always, remain yours."

Charlotte smiled at him, making herself in his eyes even more beautiful, as soon as he had uttered the words which she had wished to hear. Until she had met him, she had never expected to find love, so late in her life.

While seven and twenty was considered a good age for gentlemen, for women it had the tendency to leave them on the shelf, resigning them forever to the title of old maid. Happily now, that fate was no longer to be hers. She would no longer need to feel obliged to accept any offer that came her way. Instead she could happily accept the man that she loved.

"Yes, Colonel Fitzwilliam," she now replied, still smiling down at him, "I will marry you. Indeed, there is nothing that I would like more."

He rose up from his knees to take her into his arms. "Richard, my love," he gently corrected, before kissing her.

From then onwards, events seemed to move rather quickly to Richard's eyes. He and his beloved Charlotte spent almost all the remaining daylight hours secluded in that grove, until the weather became too cold for them to remain outside any longer.

They made their way back to Rosings Park for the planned evening with his Aunt, wrapped up quite happily in each other's company, and often arms, as they told each other of their feelings, how long they had had them, when they had first noticed their attraction for each other, and their hopes for the future.

Charlotte proved to be no stranger to the life of a Colonel on active duty, displaying a knowledge that made Richard fall even more in love with her for.

So happy they were, that, as they mounted the steps to Rosings's entrance to the Drawing Room where its owner usually held court, that they forgot to anticipate that lady's reaction to the event.

Lady Catherine de Bourgh happened to turn her eyes briefly to the glass doors, in a quest for the sight of her absent nephew, and catch sight of him holding hands with Miss Lucas, and in a way that she was incapable of misunderstanding.

"Richard Arundel Fitzwilliam!" She instantly bellowed, the sound carrying perfectly through the closed doors to the man of that name previously standing, now slightly airborne, in surprise, outside.

Colonel Fitzwilliam regained his faculties rapidly. Letting go of one of Charlotte's hands, but keeping the other a happy captive, he opened the door, entered the room, and prepared himself for another war. "Yes, Aunt?" he replied, his tone laced with dangerous calm.

Lady Catherine had never encountered his temper before, and thus continued with her attack. "I ask you to explain yourself immediately!"

"Very well," Richard replied, bringing his and Charlotte's joined hands into a view accessible to all. "This afternoon, Miss Lucas made me one of the happiest men on earth, by accepting my hand in marriage."

"You have made her an offer?" Lady Catherine sought to confirm in a strident tone.

"I have."

"I hope then that you will have the good sense to immediately retract it!"

"What good sense would exist in living without the woman whom I love?"

"Because honour, decorum, prudence- nay, interest, forbid it. As son of my brother, the Earl of Matlock, you can do much better than attaching yourself to the sister in law of my priest."

"In matters of future happiness, I do not believe I could do better. And that is all that matters to me, Aunt."

"Miss Lucas," Lady Catherine began, diverting her strike on her nephew for a while, "will you listen to reason? Do not expect to be noticed by his family or friends if you wilfully act against the inclinations of all. You will be censured, slighted, and despised by every one connected with him. Your alliance will be a disgrace; your name will never be mentioned by any of us."

"These are heavy misfortunes," Charlotte replied, with more sarcasm than seriousness. "But as the wife of Colonel Fitzwilliam, I will have such extraordinary sources of happiness necessarily attached to my situation, that I would, on the whole, have no cause to repine."

"Oh, such a girl to be my nephew's wife! Richard, can you not see what she is about? Her arts and her allurements have made you forget what you owe to yourself and your family! You are descended from ancient, respectable and noble Earldoms. Do not put them to ruin because of the upstart pretensions of a young woman without family connections or fortune! Richard, do not forget the sphere in which you were brought up!"

"On the contrary, Lady Catherine," Richard replied, his voice tempered with anger at her insults and presumption, "in marrying Charlotte I would not consider myself as quitting that sphere. I am a gentleman, she is a daughter of a knight of the realm. So far we are equal."

"But who is her mother? Who are her Uncles and Aunts? Do not imagine me ignorant of their condition."

"Whatever my connections may be," Charlotte said, "if Richard does not object to them, they can be nothing to you."

"You can have nothing further to say to either of us." Richard uttered. "You have insulted us in every possible method. We are both resolved to act in a manner which constitutes our happiness, without reference to you, or to anyone else who finds a fault with this match."

"And these are your final resolves?"

"Yes," Richard and Charlotte declared in unison.

"Very well," Lady Catherine replied. "I shall know how to act." With that she swept out of the room, intent on informing her brother by express at once.

Richard lifted Charlotte's hand to his lips and bestowed a loving kiss upon it, in silent gratitude for resisting his Aunt, then turned to his cousin. "Well, Darcy," he began, "do you intend to cast me aside like our dear Aunt?"

"Quite the contrary," Darcy replied, stepping forward to take his hand, and clap him on the back. "My congratulations, Fitzwilliam. I wish you every happiness."

"As do I, cousin," Anne de Bourgh softly replied, before a sudden shout from her mother called her and Mrs Jenkinson out of the room as well.

"I am very happy for you, Charlotte," Elizabeth remarked then, advancing to embrace her friend. Maria followed suit a moment later.

"My dear!?!" Mr Collins uttered at the sight, quite at a loss as to how to act. "I really do not think that upsetting her ladyship by voicing your support to this match, is the right thing to do at this moment."

Maria paid him no mind, and Richard turned to his cousin. "How long do you think we can remain here?"

"Not very long," Darcy replied. "My town house is always at your disposal."

"May I suggest," said Elizabeth, happening to overhear the conversation, "that we return to Hertfordshire first? Stoke Edith is not too far from Bromley, and you are all welcome to stay for as long as you wish, while we acquaint Charlotte's and my family with our news?"

"That seems a better solution, thank you, dearest," Darcy replied, taking her hand, a sight that caused Mr Collins to run out of the room in search of his patroness. "I think we had best leave now, in fact, else another battle will unfold."


Chapter XXIII.

The day after they had returned to Hertfordshire, Charlotte and Colonel Fitzwilliam travelled to Lucas Lodge to inform her parents of the match. Delighted in having their eldest married at last, Sir William and Lady Lucas presented no objection, leaving the Colonel free to journey to town to inform his parents and his commanding officer, and procure the license. At the end of the month, the couple were married at the Barracks of the 2nd Life Guards.

The celebrations following the ceremony were held at the Matlock town house, where Society was able to meet the bride, and gossip over the sight of Mr Darcy and the Countess of Saffron Walden dancing almost every dance, and hardly ever leaving each other's side.

As for Elizabeth and Darcy themselves, the news of their courtship was kept relatively quiet. Darcy sought and obtained Mr Bennet's consent as soon as they had arrived back in Hertfordshire, but the future event had been kept from the rest of the family, and the residents of Meryton.

This was because Elizabeth knew that speculation as to why there was a long wait for the wedding would run wild, in both her family and Meryton. Mrs Bennet in particular would not understand, nor agree to a long courtship.

So they retained the previous public image of their acquaintance, frequently indulging in long walks as much as they could, seeking only Mr Bennet's company when they could not be in the private company of each other.

Elizabeth, though now able to admit to herself how much she loved her suitor, was still glad of the delay. She remembered all too well the rush to her last engagement at the altar, her mother anxious to have her made a Countess, and the Earl wanting it over before Society learned of his recent inheritance.

She and the Earl had enjoyed very little time alone before the marriage, yet another mistake that needed remedying. Secure as she was in the knowledge that Darcy would never harm her, Elizabeth still wanted a moment to face her fears and memories, as well as any other deficiencies, and gain the courage to conquer them, freeing her intended of some burdens which their union would naturally shift into his care.

She soon discovered that she could not have a better, kinder, or more worthy suitor. Within hours of being granted consent by Mr Bennet, Darcy had taken up the tenancy of Netherfield Hall, bringing his sister from town, so they had the pleasure and luxury of being within easy distance of each other, during the preparations for the Fitzwilliam Lucas alliance.

Every day they came to Stoke Edith, or Longbourn, or Lucas Lodge, depending on whether they were meant to suffer the company of others, or the privilege of themselves alone. In company they talked of trivial matters, those affairs which could be overheard without concern, reserving the intimacy of their private encounters for the gradual confession of the suffering which Elizabeth had endured.

Darcy was a patient confessor, allowing her the privilege of as much pause as she needed in her confidences, reining in his temper against the Earl when the occasion required, venting those impulses which were some times roused in fencing matches with his cousin. He comforted her when he could, tentatively continuing the improvement of her character by extensive displays of affection and compassion.

The more he heard, the more he found cause to admire her endurance, her willingness to allow herself to be vulnerable, to give her heart into another's keeping, and trust that this charger would not so cruelly damage the gift. In return for the bestowal of this favour, he took his turn at the joust, mending what scars he could, quietly biding his time with others, which only the altar and his morals prevented him from curing immediately.

When those inhabitants of Meryton who had been invited to the wedding were required to go to town, the Darcys left Netherfield for Grosvenor Square, and Elizabeth opened up her town house in Hanover for her family and Charlotte's.

This proved an arduous chore at first, for the main part of her marriage had been endured within the rooms of the town house, and for a time, not even the presence of family and friends could prevent her from remembering some facet or other of the suffering which she bore within those walls. For this difficulty however her suitor soon proposed a solution, a scheme of improvements was to be made, which would brush away the last visual reminders of such previous events.

In comparison to the celebrations afterwards, the ceremony for Richard and Charlotte was actually a quiet affair. Apart from the Lucases and the Fitzwilliams, the Darcys and Elizabeth were all who attended the event, leaving everyone else having to be content with admiring the decorations to the Matlock Ballroom at their town house. Throughout the ceremony Elizabeth feared a sudden and unlooked for encounter with memories of her own, now tainted by all that had come and gone after it. Instead however, to her great surprise, it was similar to that of Jane and Bingley's, and she found herself picturing the future, and not the past. Imagining herself and Mr Darcy at the altar, instead of remembering herself and the Earl there.

Fantasising over the loving look that he might display- rather like the one that was upon his face at this moment, as she happened to glance at him, and see him meet her gaze with one of his own -as he recited his vows, and slipped a wedding band on to her finger. Already she was forgetting her past, she realised to her joy. Her mind was looking forward willingly to another marriage.

Darcy caught the expression on his betrothed's face all through the ceremony, and inwardly smiled, sending her one of his own, containing as much of the love that he held for her as he could declare to their present company. He too, was imagining how their own would go, and the life that lay ahead of them.


Volume VI.


© Danielle Harwood-Atkinson 2013.