Here is the first chapters of the new story.
Fitzwilliam Darcy was only eleven years old the first time his father showed him the charts of the family history. “The Darcys have been in England for hundreds of years. The Darcys of Pemberley have been here for over two hundred years, when Benjamin Darcy, third son of Sir John Darcy, purchased the estate. Over the generations, more land was purchased, until it is now the largest estate in Derbyshire.”
“Sir John? Was he titled?” Young Fitzwilliam asked. His mother, Lady Anne, was the daughter of an Earl, so Fitzwilliam learned young of titles and peers.
“Sir John was a baron. He had three sons. Thomas was the second born, and owned property in York. Robert was the eldest, and heir to his father’s estate in the south.”
“And Benjamin was the youngest. It says that he had a son and a daughter.”
“Yes, Benjamin’s son was named Frederick, and the daughter was Sarah. Sarah married a man named Joshua Bennet. Frederick married Nicolette, and they had a son, Matthew. Matthew and his wife, Alice, had daughter named Edith, and a son named Marcus.”
Gerald Darcy nodded. “Yes, Grandfather Marcus. Your grandfather married your grandmother, Ethel. And from their marriage came myself and your aunt, Diana. Your aunt died when you were a very young boy. Now it is just you.”
“Will you and Mother have more children? I have long wished for a brother, so I can be close to him, like my cousins Richard and Anthony are.”
For Gerald Darcy, the answer to this question was a difficult one. He had wished for other children, as had his wife, and three times they thought there would be additions to their family. But each time, the babe was lost before it could even be born. Lady Anne Darcy suffered from melancholy due to her most recent loss, just months prior.
“Your mother and I wish that there were more children, as we love you and would dearly love to have siblings for you. But we have not been blessed as of yet. One day, we might be fortunate enough to give you a brother, or a sister.”
“Sisters are girls. Who could want a girl in their family?”
“Your mother is a girl. As are you cousins, Lizzy and Jane Bennet. You have enjoyed playing with them when they visit.”
Fitzwilliam thought for several moments before responding. “If I could have a sister like Lizzy, then I would agree. Jane smiles too much.”
Gerald had a difficult time keeping from laughing. “So you like your cousin Lizzy.”
“She is not like other girls. Lizzy does not mind getting dirty, and she likes to climb in the tree with Richard and me. Of course, she is still young and we have to help her climb, but no other girl would behave so.”
“You would be surprised. Did you know that your mother was quite fond of climbing in trees?”
“Mother climbed trees? I do not believe you. Mother is always so elegant, and she is always beautifully dressed. She would never get dirty by climbing in a tree.”
“Ask your uncle, Lord Matlock, sometime. He will tell you stories about your mother when she was a girl. From what I remember of her, and what he has told me, your mother was much like your young cousin.”
Fitzwilliam looked at the chart before him with a quizzical brow. “I know that Richard and Anthony are my cousins because their father and Mother are brother and sister. But how is Lizzy and Jane my cousin? Mr Bennet is not your brother.”
“See here, on the chart, where Frederick has a sister, Sarah? She married a man named Joseph Bennet. Sarah and Joseph had four children, a son named Albert, and three daughters named Marissa, Belinda, and Martha. Albert married a lady named Elizabeth, and they had two sons. The sons were Joseph and Robert. Robert died when he was a child. Joseph and his wife, Rachel, had a son named Thomas. Mr Thomas Bennet is the father of Lizzy and Jane Bennet.”
“And they have the estate of Longbourn, which was in the Bennet family for longer than Darcys have owned Pemberley?”
Gerald smiled as he ruffled his son’s hair. “Yes, it has been. And Thomas has improved the estate tremendously over the years since his father died. It is one of the largest estates in Hertfordshire.”
“When do I make the journey to stay with my cousins? I am excited to spend time with Lizzy.” Fitzwilliam asked.
“When you are at Longbourn, you will be learning from Mr Bennet. He is to teach you on planning for a planting season and the care of horses. He has a fine string of horses that he breeds and I wish for you to learn about what is involved in breeding horses. One day, we may go into business together and I want you to learn from an expert in the field.”
“But I will be allowed some time to have fun, will I not?”
“Of course, my boy. But I want you to listen to Mr Bennet and do as he tells you. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Father. When do I leave?”
“I will take you to Longbourn in a fortnight. You will be there for two months. Your mother and I will be in Town at our townhouse during that time. Then Mr Bennet will bring you and his family to Town for a few weeks of enjoyment before we leave for Easter at Rosings.”
“Might I return to Longbourn rather than go to Rosings this year?” Fitzwilliam pleaded.
Gerald shook his head. “I know you dislike your Aunt Catherine, and your cousin Anne, but they rarely see you and they look forward to your coming to Rosings.”
“Anne is a pain. She pretends to be ill, so that her mother will give her what she wants. She is not really ill. Richard and Anthony also dislike spending time with her, because if Anne does not get her way, she cries for her mother.”
“Anne has had health issues in the past, and Lady Catherine indulged Anne because she feared she would lose her daughter. Anne had a sister and brother who were older than her, and both of them were sickly children. They died when they were just babes. That explains why Lady Catherine is so protective of her remaining child.”
“But Anne always wants me to kiss her, and she says that Aunt Catherine promised that I will marry her. I do not wish to marry someone like Anne. If I am to marry, I want my wife to me more like Lizzy.”
“Well, there are many years before you will have to worry about marrying anyone. And if Anne tries to make you kiss her, tell her she is being improper and you will tell her mother on her. I believe Lady Catherine will put a stop to her behavior.”
Fitzwilliam’s head dipped forward. Looking down at his feet, the boy reluctantly agreed to join his parents at Rosings for Easter.
~~ ** ~~
“Cousin William is here. Cousin William is here.” Seven year old Elizabeth Bennet shouted as she looked out the window, seeing the Darcy carriage coming towards the house at Longbourn.
“Lizzy, I told you to sit on the sofa, next to Jane. You are to behave like a young lady, not a wild animal.” Mrs Fanny Bennet said to her second born child. Her youngest, Mary, was only four years old and in the nursery. Mrs Bennet was three months along with her fourth child, and she was praying for a son to break the entail on the estate.
“But it is Cousin William, Mamma. He does not expect me to be a lady. And I do not want to be a lady. I want to run the estate.” Elizabeth folded her arms across her chest as she stomped her little feet towards the sofa, where her elder sister set properly.
“You are a young lady and ladies do not run estates. Besides, this estate is entailed away from the female line. Your father has done you no favors by allowing you to run wild like a boy.” Her mother stated.
“Girls do not have any fun. It is not fair. Who wants to sit around stitching clothes all day, or learning to be a hostess? I want to climb trees with William. It is fun to be able to see everything from up in the trees.”
“Lizzy, I will hear no more of this nonsense. You will behave like a proper young lady and there is nothing else to say about the issue. Now sit beside Jane, before Mr Darcy and William enter the room. And when they are welcomed, what do you do?”
“Jane curtsies like a young lady. I will bow.” Elizabeth said stubbornly.
“No, Lizzy, you curtsy like I do.” Nine year old Jane said. “Remember, Mamma taught us how to curtsey like young ladies should.”
Again, a pout took over Elizabeth’s small face. She continued her stubborn streak until the Darcys were shown into the room. Only her sister’s hand on her arm keep Elizabeth seated when she saw her friend.
“Girls, please come and greet our guests.” Mrs Bennet spoke to her daughters. Reluctantly, Elizabeth followed the example of her elder sister, giving a proper curtsy to the Darcys.
Fitzwilliam bowed, giving a smile as he watched his young cousin, who was obviously displeased with having to behave like a young lady. Once the formalities were concluded, the Bennet sisters returned to the sofa, with their cousin taking the chair next to the sofa.
“It is a pleasure to be here, Miss Jane, Miss Lizzy. How are you?”
“It is our pleasure to have you here, Cousin William. Lizzy and I are excited to have you come to stay with us.” Jane said, her serene continence gave her the appearance of miniature angel.
“I am happy to be here as well, Cousin. And you, Lizzy, my how you have grown. It will not be long before you will be able to climb trees on your own.” Fitzwilliam said.
“Do not encourage her, Master William. Ladies should never climb in trees.” Mrs Bennet stated her opinion clearly as she glared at her daughter.
Only after her mother turned her attention to Gerald Darcy did Elizabeth respond to her cousin. “I told Mamma that I do not wish to be lady. I wish to run an estate, like you will.”
“But Lizzy, you are a girl, and Mamma told you, girls do not inherit estates or run them. You will find a husband and be the Mistress of his home while he runs the estate.”
Elizabeth stuck her tongue out at her sister. “You wait and see. One day, I will run an estate. And if I do marry, he will help me run the estate, not take it from me.”
Fitzwilliam had a difficult time keeping from laughing. He knew Elizabeth was very stubborn and opinionated. She was unlike any other female he had ever met. As the Bennets had no sons as yet, Mr Bennet had begun teaching his favorite daughter as he would a son. Elizabeth was quick to learn and highly intelligent.
“Well, would you ladies show me where I will be staying while I am here?” He asked, attempting to soothe Elizabeth’s aggravation.
“Cousin William, follow us.” Elizabeth took hold of her sister’s hand, and the girls led the way out of the room.
Mrs Bennet shook her head as she watched her daughters leaving, taking Fitzwilliam with them.
“Please forgive her, Gerald. She is going through a very trying time.”
“Fanny, there is nothing to forgive. As a matter of fact, William was speaking of Lizzy recently. He is thrilled with coming to spend time here, and Lizzy is one of the reasons for his joy. She is unlike other girls, especially his cousin Anne de Bourgh.”
Mrs Bennet chuckled. “From what I have seen of Miss de Bourgh, I would not want to spend much time with her. She has a nasty streak about her. I know she is your wife’s niece and namesake, but there is something evil about the girl.”
“William said the same thing to me. She has learned young how to manipulate her mother into getting what she wants. And, from what my son has told me, she wants him for a husband when they grow up.”
“My goodness, she is only nine years old. She has set her cap for William already?”
Gerald nodded his head. “It seems so. I plan to have a discussion with Catherine, for I have no desire to see my son saddled with a wife such as Anne would be.”
~~ ** ~~
Gerald Darcy and Thomas Bennet had been friends for most of their lives, being distant cousins and classmates. They were the same age, and had similar personalities.
As the men walked about in the stables of Longbourn, Gerald was impressed with his cousin’s line of breeding horses.
“That stallion over there, the black one with the star on its face, what a fine specimen you have in that one. Which mare do you intend to put with him?”
“I have two dams I would like to breed with him. The dams are sisters, over there. Their sire was Arabian, and a better runner I have never seen. The dams have proven they are nearly as good as their sire, and even better when it comes to jumping. Any foal of theirs should make for a good hunter or even for the army. They are always looking for the best horses to take into battle.”
“How many breeding mares do you have?”
“We have six at the moment. I am planning to expand over the next five years, until I have a total of twenty dams. With that many, I can breed half while the other half has a year off. Then rotate them the following year. We have three sires at the moment, and I am ever looking for more.”
“Thomas, you have a remarkable plan in progress. I am amazed.” Gerald Darcy stated. “I would like to invest in the venture. We should sit down with your brother in law and go over figures.”
“He said to tell you that if you are interested, he would be able to come here tomorrow morning.” Mr Bennet said, a smile plastered on his face.
Mr Darcy laughed. “You have always known what I would do, before even I know myself.”
“Come to my study. We can enjoy some of the Madera that Fanny’s brother gave me for Christmas.”
~~ ** ~~
“I must confess, Thomas, I have another venture I wish to discuss with you. William said something to me a few weeks ago that made me nervous, and I wish to protect him from Anne’s sister.”
Mr Bennet frowned. “What would the grand Lady Catherine de Bourgh do to cause you to worry?”
“Catherine has always been protective of her daughter, Anne, since her elder two children died before Anne’s birth. Both of those children were sickly from birth, as was Anne. But Anne has learned to use her condition to get what she wants from her mother. From what my son told me, Anne is not as ill as her mother believes she is, and that she pretends to milk sympathy from her mother.”
“Well, I must say that I am not surprised. The one time I met the girl, there was something off about her. So what does William believe will happen to him?”
“Anne has tried to force her feelings upon my son. She has tried to kiss him, and insists that he will one day be her husband. Knowing Catherine, she will do anything to make her daughter happy, and if Anne demands to have William as her husband, Catherine will attempt to force the issue.”
“You will just have to stand your ground with your sister in law. She is a frightening woman, I admit, but surely she cannot force you into making sure your son marries her daughter.” Mr Bennet was confused.
“Thomas, if my Anne and I are able, we will protect William from Catherine. But I was speaking to my wife of the issue. We came up with a possible situation which be beneficial to your family and ours.”
Mr Bennet was certain of where the conversation was heading. “You wish to make an arrangement between your son and my Lizzy?”
“Am I so transparent?” Gerald asked, looking like a child caught with his hand in a jar of sweets.
“No, but I have often thought of what sort of man would want my Lizzy. She will never be the normal sort of young lady. The young man who marries her will have to realize that she is highly intelligent, very adventurous, and not in the least bit dainty.”
“It is for these reasons I believe she will be a good match for William when they are adults. William has a tendency to be shy and very reserved when around people he is not acquainted with. You may not have noticed, as he has known you and your family all of his life. He is comfortable with you, even when Fanny has a fit of her nerves.”
Mr Bennet laughed. “Well, if he can withstand Fanny’s nerves, William will be able to withstand anything.”
The men sipped their drinks for a few moments, allowing each other a moment to think of the possibilities.
Gerald Darcy broke the silence. “So, what is your opinion?”
“What if we asked William his opinion before we make a decision that will affect the rest of his life?”
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~
Fitzwilliam wondered what he had done wrong, to be called into Mr Bennet’s study before his own father had left. “Mrs Hill said you wished to speak with me.”
“Indeed, William, come in and have a seat.” Mr Bennet said.
“Have I done something to upset you?” William asked nervously.
“No, no, we only had a question for you.” Mr Darcy stated. “William, after speaking with you about your cousin, Anne, I wondered if we could find a way to avoid any possibility of your Aunt Catherine attempting to force a marriage between you and Anne. You are well aware that my father died young, so I learned to never leave things to chance, if I can help it. I want to know that you will be protected, no matter if I am with you or not.”
Fitzwilliam frowned. “I do not like to think of your dying, Father. You will be with us for many years to come, I am certain.”
“I pray I will be, my dear son. But I wish to make certain you are protected. Our cousin, Mr Bennet, and I were discussing a potential arrangement for you. An agreement that would be a binding contract to have you promised in marriage to someone.”
Fear crept in the boy’s expression. “And to whom did you propose I be bound?”
“We thought of what a perfect match you and my Lizzy would make.” Mr Bennet said.
“You mean, I would marry Lizzy, when we are grown up? And Anne would never be able to force me to marry her? Aunt Catherine could do nothing to change the agreement?”
“Yes, to all of your questions. You would be legally bound to marry Lizzy when she reached a certain age. What say you, Thomas, eighteen or twenty?”
“I would agree to eighteen.”
“So, when Lizzy turns eighteen, and you will be twenty two, you will marry. When you marry, you will be able to live in the dowager house at Pemberley, so you might have a home of your own, until the day you become the Master of Pemberley. What do you think of our proposal?” Mr Darcy asked his son.
Fitzwilliam thought for a few moments. “I guess it would be a plan I could tolerate. Though she is a girl, Lizzy is so very different. I like her, and she would be able to care for the estate, rather than lace and ribbons like most girls do.”
The boy stood and walked to a nearby window, a habit his father had witnessed many times, as the young Fitzwilliam contemplated his future.
Finally turning back to his father and cousin, the boy wore a grin which showed his dimpled cheek, a rare sight for anyone to witness. “Yes, I agree. When I am twenty two, and Lizzy is eighteen, I will marry her. I like the idea of having such a wife as I am sure she will be.”
“Then we will make the arrangements.” Mr Darcy stated. “You may go outside if you wish.”
“Thank you, Father.”
“Oh, William, I would prefer if you would keep quiet about our plan for the moment. I will inform my wife and family when the time is best.”
“Very well, Mr Bennet. And thank you for the honor you have bestowed on me. I know that Lizzy is your favorite daughter.”
~~ ** ~~
Gerald Darcy remained at Longbourn for two days, preparing for his son’s future with the Bennet family. When he arrived home, he found that his wife was resting in her bedchamber.
“Dearest, is all well? You are quite pale.”
“I have had a queasy stomach of late, and today, it was worse than usual.”
“Queasy stomach? How long?” Gerald’s eyes lit up with the implications.
“I felt the quickening a week ago. I pray this time we are successful.”
Gerald lifted his wife’s hand to his lips. “I pray for the same, my love. Perhaps we should remain here, rather than make the journey to Town and then to Rosings this year. I do not wish you to take any chances with your health.”
“My sister will be disappointed if we do not come. Little Anne rarely has time with her cousins, and I would not wish to disappoint her.”
“You are the only Anne in this family who I am concerned for, and I know that our son would prefer to spend the time here than at Rosings. Perhaps Thomas and his family will return William and have a holiday here, with us, rather than in Town.”
“I do not wish to be a disappointment to anyone. I am sure that Lizzy and Jane were looking forward to shopping in London, especially at the confectionary shop.”
“With Lizzy, it would more likely be the bookshop. But the girls love coming here to visit, and they can visit Fanny’s brother in Town if they wish to visit London. And I know you would be cheered to see the girls.”
Lady Anne smiled. “I so wish this child to be a daughter. Do not mistake me, I adore our William. But I have longed for a daughter, to buy her pretty dresses and ribbons, and all the other treats which come with little girls.”
“Anne, there is something I wish to discuss with you.”
Seeing the worried expression of her husband, Lady Anne frowned. “What is wrong?”
“Nothing is wrong, my dearest. I am only concerned of your reaction to what I am about to tell you.”
“Just tell me, Gerald. The worst is not knowing.”
Gerald Darcy smiled. “William and I had a discussion. He fears your sister and her daughter, as our niece has made it clear that she wishes to one day marry our son. William dislikes Anne, as she forces her attentions on him, and if he does not give in to her wishes, she cries to Catherine. Our son is concerned with being forced into a marriage with Anne, and he despises the notion. To be honest, I do not look upon such a match favorably. With William’s approval, I have entered into an attachment between our son and Lizzy Bennet.”
Lady Anne gasped. “He is so young to be thinking of his future marriage. What if the time comes for them to marry and they no longer wish for such an attachment?”
“Our son adores Lizzy, and she is the sort of young lady who would give him challenges. She is not the simpering debutants we see in Society, she would be he partner in life. I am certain of it. Have faith, my dearest. William will have someone who cares for him, who will be at his side. Is that not what you wish for our dear boy?”
“I do, it is just too much to think of our son being a man. I do not wish him to grow up too fast.”
“I understand. It does not seem possible that he will soon be twelve. Where has the time gone?”
Lady Anne smiled. “I remember my mother telling me that when we are young, we cannot wait for time to pass so we are old enough to do the things we see our elders do. When we are older, time passes by far too quickly and we wish it would slow down.”
“Your mother was a wise woman. Now, as I am covered in dust from my journey, and my valet has most likely had time to prepare my bath, I will refresh and return to you shortly. By then, perhaps we could share a light meal together. You need your strength, not only for you, but for the babe as well.”
“Yes, my love. I will do as you command.” Lady Anne giggled as she watched her husband walk across the room, to the door to his own chambers.
~~ ** ~~
“William, you have a letter from your father.” Mr Bennet held out the post to the young man.
Fitzwilliam smiled as he took the missive and broke the seal. “He says that we will not be traveling to Rosings this year, and that I am to return home to Pemberley rather than go to Town.”
“Yes, he says that he does not wish your mother making such long journeys.”
“Is…is…my mother…is she…going to…?”
“Have a baby? Your father wrote in the letter to me that it appears your mother is with child. He thought you would be thrilled with the news.”
Fitzwilliam was pleased, but he also knew that his mother was not as hearty and strong as Mrs Bennet. “I have wished for a brother, but I do not wish for Mother to be ill.”
“The good Lord gives us what we are supposed to have. If the Lord believes your family should have another child, then that is what will happen. We will pray for Lady Anne to have a safe confinement and both her and the babe to be healthy and strong.”
“Thank you, Mr Bennet.” The boy said, looking at his father’s words again.
“So, you only want a brother? Why not a sister?”
“Girls are no fun. I could never tolerate a girl.”
Mr Bennet laughed. “You tolerate my daughters. What is different about them?”
“I tolerate Jane, as she is dear to Lizzy. Mary is too young to be a real girl yet. And Lizzy, well, she is unlike any girl I have ever known. So I like spending time with Lizzy.”
“Well, you will have to wait and see if you are given a brother or a sister. And I am certain you will love the babe, even if it is a girl.”
~~ ** ~~
“I do not understand.” Anne de Bourgh declared to her mother. “Just because Aunt Anne cannot come, why does that mean William must stay away? Can he not come to stay, giving his mother a holiday?”
“He is with the Bennets at the moment, my dearest. When his visit there is over, he will return to Pemberley. You know how dear his mother is to him, and William will wish to be with her.”
“Then he should leave the Bennet home and come here immediately. I cannot abide by his refusal to come for a visit. Who are the Bennets to us?”
Lady Catherine attempted to calm her daughter. “Please, Anne, you must not make yourself ill. I will write to your uncle and insist William come here rather than remain with those nobodies.”
“I insist he come here. It is rare I see William, and I need to see him. How can he treat me, his future bride, beneath those Bennets?”
“Anne, you must take your tonic. We cannot have you becoming ill.”
“I will take my tonic as soon as you promise that William will come to visit me soon.”
“Of course, my dearest girl. I will write the message and have the carriage prepared to retrieve William from the Bennets.”
~~ ** ~~
Mr Bennet and his two eldest daughters made the journey to Pemberley to return Fitzwilliam Darcy to his home. Fanny Bennet decided to remain at Longbourn due to her own condition, not wishing to make such a long journey with a child developing inside her. Mary was tended by the nanny, and would be best left at home than to take such a young child in a carriage so far.
Arriving at Pemberley, Lady Anne and Gerald Darcy welcomed their guests to their home. “Thomas, it is a pleasure to have you and the girls join us here. Anne would have been extremely disappointed to have missed seeing Lizzy and Jane.”
“I see how it is, I am only the escort of my daughters and your son. Well, just for that, Gerald, I will be found in your excellent library. You may send my meals there, as I doubt I find my way from that glorious room for some time.”
Everyone laughed, as it was always the same statement Mr Bennet made when he visited Pemberley.
“Come in the drawing room first, as we have refreshments ready. Then you will be fortified for a few hours of heavy book perusing.” Lady Anne stated, chuckling at her friend.
~~ ** ~~
The second day at Pemberley, Elizabeth joined Fitzwilliam and Gerald to the stables. Jane was far more feminine in her past times so she elected to remain in the house with Lady Anne, while Mr Bennet was ensconced in the library.
“Did William tell you of the filly which was born the day before you arrived? She is a beauty.” Gerald spoke to Elizabeth.
“He did. I am excited to see her. What is her dam like? Is she fast or a jumper?”
Gerald laughed aloud. “You are definitely your father’s daughter. Between your love of reading and your knowledge of horses, there is no mistaking that you are Thomas Bennet’s daughter.”
“Mamma says I have his wit and intelligence, and his sense of humor.” Elizabeth announced proudly. “She says I should have been a boy, as I prefer climbing trees to needlepoint.”
“Indeed.” Fitzwilliam stated. “It is why I like you compared to any other girl. You are not all frilly and girlie. I like Jane, but she is like most girls.”
“Jane is my favorite girl, though I like our friend, Charlotte Lucas. She is older than Jane. Charlotte does not make fun of me for playing with her brothers. And she does not mind if I make a mistake in my stitching.”
“Well, there is the stall where the new filly is with her mother. I have to speak with the stable manager, so you two behave yourselves.”
The two youths made their way to the stall and climbed up on the bench along the outside of the stall’s wall. This allowed them easier access to see the horses, and admire the filly which was nursing from her mother.
“William, look at her. What a beauty. I love the star on her forehead.”
“She has chestnut brown hair, just as you. I should ask Father if she can be your horse when you visit. We could even name her Lizzy’s Girl.”
“Oh, no, she is far too pretty to be named after me. You know I am not the pretty one in the family. Mamma always says that Jane is the beautiful one, while I am the intelligent one.”
Fitzwilliam frowned. “Lizzy, your mother should not speak so about you. It is not proper. And she is incorrect. You are just as pretty as Jane, only you are unique, where Jane is typical.”
Elizabeth was confused. Her father had always complimented her on her mind and personality, never on her appearance. No one ever spoke of her being pretty. “William, do you ever think I will be able to find a husband? I overheard Mamma speaking to Aunt Phillips that I will never be able to find a husband because I am too…too…independent and outspoken. That is what she said.”
Looking about to ensure privacy, Fitzwilliam took his friend by the hand and led her out to one of the flower gardens.
“Lizzy, can you keep a secret?” When she nodded her head, Fitzwilliam continued. “Our fathers have made an agreement. When you turn eighteen, you and I will be wed. Do you approve? Would you be pleased to be my wife, and live here at Pemberley?”
Elizabeth’s eyes grew round with surprise. “We are to marry? Truly? I would have thought your father would demand someone of higher society.”
“My parents married for love. They wish for me to also have a love match. Father spoke with your father, for he knew I am fond of you, and that you are one of the only girls I could ever love. I do not wish to have a marriage like my mother’s brother. His wife married him as a business venture. She brought money to the union, and he brought a title and land. My cousin, Richard, says it is miserable to live in their home, and he prefers to visit here as often as possible. He tells me how fortunate I am to have my parents.”
“My parents care for each other, and enjoy being together, though I would not call it a love match. Your parents are magical, unlike any I have ever known before.” Elizabeth declared. “I love being here, as Pemberley is perfect.”
“So you would not mind living here when you are older?” Fitzwilliam asked. “You would not mind being my wife?”
Thinking for a few moments, Elizabeth looked her beloved cousin in the eye. “I believe I would be pleased to be your wife, when we are older. Elizabeth Darcy…I like that name.”
“Your father felt we should keep the news quiet for the present. You will have to keep from telling your mother.”
“I have many secrets I have kept from Mamma. She can be…over enthusiastic.”
Fitzwilliam laughed. “I believe we will have a wonderful life together, Lizzy.”
~~ ** ~~
Mr Bennet received an express from Longbourn, stating there had been a fire in one of the tenant homes. He knew there would be extensive work to be done, as the home had been completely destroyed. The family living there had escaped with only minor injuries, but they had nothing left. All their belongings, their clothes, everything was gone. There would be a need for replacement items acquired, medical needs for those injured, and a place to house the family while a new structure could be made.
Knowing what his cousin would face, Gerald Darcy made him an offer. “Why do you not leave the girls here until you have everything under control at Longbourn? Anne would love having the girls to spoil, and William would be pleased to spend more time with Lizzy. And you know I care for the girls as I would if they were my own.”
“I am grateful, Gerald. Are you certain that it would not be too much for Lady Anne, in her condition?”
“Nonsense. It eases her mind to have them here. Especially Jane, as your eldest is just the sort of daughter Anne wishes she had.”
“Very well, I will leave them. I cannot thank you enough, Gerald.”
~~ ** ~~
Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam spent most of their time together, either checking on the horses or reading in the library, or even riding about the estate. One day, they decided to take a picnic lunch with them to one of Fitzwilliam’s favorite locations on the estate.
They rode their horses to the base of a hill, where they tied the reins to a nearby tree. Climbing the hill was simple, as the hillside was not steep. By the time the pair reached the top, Elizabeth’s eyes sparkled from the energetic walk. The sight made Fitzwilliam take a quick intake of air, as he was beginning to see his friend in a different light.
Quickly, Fitzwilliam turned and began flipping the blanket he had brought, until it was laid on the ground, on which the two could sit. Fitzwilliam then reached in the basket and began removing the contents.
“So, William, why is this one of your favorite locations? I love it very much, as it reminds me of Oakham Mount, near Longbourn.”
“See the river, over there? I love watching the water flow through the area. When I am angry or sad, I come here. The sound of the water aids in calming me, soothing me until I can think again. I am grateful for the comfort which the river brings.”
“I have always been fond of the sound of water flowing.” Elizabeth said. “Whenever Mamma is upset with me, I escape the house to the creek behind the stables. There is a large tree which has branches hanging down over part of the creek, making an enclosure. I go there, where I can hide inside the enclosure, and no one can find me. It is peaceful in there, with the water rippling past and the outside world cannot find me. I can imagine I am somewhere far away, having an adventure.”
Fitzwilliam smiled. “I love the way you think, Lizzy. We are so much alike. I know we will have the perfect life together.”
A slight blush crept up on Elizabeth’s cheeks, as she gave a glance down at her hands. The shy appearance she portrayed was intoxicating to Fitzwilliam, and, for the first time in his young life, he felt the stirring of a young man’s heart. Leaning towards her, Fitzwilliam placed a gentle kiss on Elizabeth’s lips.
Startled, Elizabeth looked up at him. “What do you think you are doing? I am not some loose woman. I am a gentlewoman, with proper manners.”
“But we are betrothed, Lizzy. There is no harm in a simple kiss between betrothed couples.”
“I am not certain. I believe we should return to the house.”
“Please, Lizzy, forgive me. I did not mean to cause you any harm. The way you looked, it made me wish to kiss you.”
“You will be forgiven, only when you promise not to kiss me again. At least not until I tell you that you may kiss me.”
Fitzwilliam smiled. “I will make you this promise. I will not kiss you until I am granted permission or our betrothal is announced in the papers to prepare for the wedding.”
Elizabeth held out her hand. As Fitzwilliam took hold, the two shook. She smiled at her dearest friend. “Now, let us enjoy the delicious meal Mrs Reynolds had packed for us.”