Friday, March 10, 2006

Nor At Any Other

A/N: An Anne de Bourgh story covering her cousin's four-year stay at Rosings after his mother's death.

1797

Anne de Bourgh was never so shocked in her life as on the day that she walked into the green parlour to find her mother weeping. A letter was lying discarded on the mantelpiece, and the ever-poised Lady Catherine sat nearby, her face covered by trembling hands. Sir Lewis flitted about uselessly as his wife sobbed brokenly.

Anne had never seen her mother shed a tear before -- had never imagined that such a thing was even possible -- which made it all that much the worse. She knew, instantly, that something very terrible had happened -- that her life, their lives, would never be the same again.

She stood frozen in the doorway, poised for flight but unwilling to completely abandon her mother to her grief.

"Oh, Anne," Sir Lewis said in relief, "there you are." He took several steps backwards, eyeing his wife fearfully.

"What has happened, papa?" she asked softly, shivering slightly. Sir Lewis only shook his head as he backed out of the room, and Anne entered awkwardly, tentatively placing one thin hand on Lady Catherine's shoulder. That lady lifted her head, gazing at her daughter with swollen blue eyes. "You don't have your shawl, Anne," she said, her voice tear-roughened, as she gathered the shreds of her composure.

"N-no," stammered Anne, "I dropped it -- "

Mrs Jenkinson, the nurse-cum-governess-cum-companion, materialised from who-knew-where, draped the offending article about her charge's narrow shoulders, and tactfully retreated.

"Anne," said Lady Catherine, drawing herself erect, "your aunt is dead."

Anne could feel her legs trembling beneath her, and fumbled for a chair, sitting down gracelessly. She had several aunts, but only one had ever affected her mother in any meaningful way -- Anne shuddered. Although separated by nearly seven years, a very steady attachment had always existed between the two sisters. Anne herself loved her namesake with the blind adoration of a neglected child astonished to find herself, for quite the first time in her life, the object of sincere interest and affection. She thought her aunt quite simply the most wonderful woman she had ever laid eyes on, and treasured every line accompanying every gift, every memory of Lady Anne's rich contralto voice speaking directly to her -- "my dear Anne! let me look at you. You have grown so tall; and how wonderful you look in that new frock. It is new, isn't it?" Then she had smiled her serene, lovely smile, quite overwhelming her impressionable young niece.

And now -- now she was dead. Impossible! Not Aunt Anne -- beautiful, wonderful Aunt Anne -- surely, she was the kind who lived forever? Anne had never thought that the years could touch her namesake; she would always be there, the same as she had always been -- there was that kind of timeless, ageless quality about her. Lady Anne's was not and had never been the beauty of youth and good humour; at twenty she had not been very different from what she was at forty.

"I shall return within a fortnight," Lady Catherine was saying. "Derbyshire is too cold for your delicate constitution, Anne."

Less than two weeks later, Lady Catherine swept into Rosings, her expression thunderous. She brushed off the servants who attempted to help her remove her cloak. Anne, drawn by the sound of a ruckus being raised, instantly now that her mother had returned, and crept closer to look and admire. She peered around the corner, tightening the shawl around her shoulders self-consciously.

Lady Catherine was not alone; at her side was a pale, silent boy of about Anne's own age. He shivered slightly, but although he appeared very small and thin in the grand entry wall, carried along in Lady Catherine's wake, he did not appear cowed or even impressed. After one look at his set face, Anne squeaked and fled -- for even at thirteen, there was a certain forbidding quality about Fitzwilliam Darcy.

---

For several weeks, an uneasy peace reigned. Lady Catherine was grimmer than ever, Sir Lewis thoroughly cowed after one sharp rebuke, and Fitzwilliam withdrawn and indifferent. At meals, he answered all remarks sent his way in a brief monotone, played listlessly with his food, and showed not the slightest concern for anyone but the servants. Except for at dinner, he spent all his time in his bedchambers, locked up with his books. Anne, who had cried herself to sleep over Lady Anne more nights than not, pitied him, but did not dare express it, and even if she did, would not have known how.

She had met him once before, five years prior, and he had been very different -- haughty, opinionated, outspoken, and quite possibly the kindest person she had ever met. But -- Anne rationalised -- if anyone had a right to be melancholy, it was Fitzwilliam. Nevertheless the tension wreaked havoc on her nerves. She avoided everyone altogether.

When she found one of her cousin's books, about three weeks into his stay, she was forced to venture into his domain to return it -- although really, she was quite curious, else she would have simply instructed a servant to give it back to Master Darcy. There was no response to her tentative knock, and she pushed the door open, meeting Fitzwilliam's astonished gaze. He was curled into a ball on his bed, his cheeks tear-stained. But before she could offer so much as a word of comfort, a snarling, spitting grey ball hurled itself at her. Anne, her cheek burning, shrieked and fled.

That evening, to her astonishment, she heard a knock at her door, and rose to answer it, blinking a little tiredly. Fitzwilliam stood there, his lashes lowered and a fluffy grey bundle purring in his
arms. "Hello, Anne," he said, almost shyly, and certainly apologetically. "I wanted to make sure that you're all right. She didn't mean to hurt you."

Anne was torn between fear of the beast in his arms and pleasure at attention from this most unexpected source. She decided on the latter, and smiled, noticing idly that he was, in countenance and carriage, almost the very image of his mother; only his eyes were at all different, not warm and dark as Lady Anne's had been, but closer to Lady Catherine's icy blue. "Oh, I'm perfectly well," she replied nervously.

Fitzwilliam reached out one hand to her cheek, which still showed signs of his pet's attack. "It must hurt," he said quietly. "I'm sorry. Alfred is very out-of-sorts these days."

Anne, her cheek throbbing a little, threw a glance at the fat, slumbering cat. "That is Alfred?" she exclaimed.

"She's getting old and senile," explained Fitzwilliam. "And she is very unhappy since -- since we came here." He lowered his eyes once more, and fidgeted a little. "But I -- " he coughed, and the rest came in a rush, "I didn't want you to be hurt, because you're ma -- it's not your fault, and you're my cousin so she ought to know better."

Anne glanced at her cousin out of the corner of her eye. It seemed vastly unfair that he should be so very handsome, when he was a boy and it didn't matter greatly whether he was or not. If she was half as beautiful as Fitzwilliam, she would take far better care of her looks than he did. "You're very thin," she said disapprovingly, then flushed. "Did I say that aloud?"

A brief smile lit up Fitzwilliam's face -- a singularly lovely smile that coaxed one reluctant dimple out of his left cheek. It was nothing like Lady Anne's serene, properly restrained smiles, but rather an inheritance -- the only inheritance, in looks at least -- from his charismatic father. "Oh yes," he said, almost cheerfully. "I am not so very thin, am I?"

"Well . . ." She made him blush by gazing at him critically. "Yes, you are. You ought to take better care of yourself, for mamma's sake, at least. She is so very fond of you."

Fitzwilliam fidgeted again. "I, yes -- she is -- it's -- "

"I don't mind," said Anne. "Would you like to sit down?" She cleared some of her scattered belongings off a chair, and Fitzwilliam perched on it, looking around as if he expected to be attacked at any moment.

The cat snored. Anne, who had never entertained another human being in her life, beamed. "What do you read? You are always doing it, and it must be very interesting, to keep you away from people all the time."

"Not really," said Fitzwilliam, allowing Alfred to sprawl out across his lap. "I don't like people much."

---


1798

"It's sixteen and twenty-four hundredths," said Fitzwilliam didactically. "You wrote a hundred sixty-two and four tenths."

Anne frowned at her sums. She did not spend much time at lessons, in accordance with her mother's wishes, and consequently her academic knowledge was severely lacking.

"I don't understand," she said plaintively.

"It's very simple. You must move the decimal the same number of spaces after them when you multiplied. There, that was three spaces so you move it three times, you see -- "

"But it's not -- twenty-four hundredths, it's two hundred and forty, two hundred and forty . . . thousandths?"

"Well, yes, but that doesn't matter. Zeroes don't count."

Anne frowned. "Yes, they do -- ten is not a hundred -- "

"After a decimal, I mean. Zeroes at the end don't matter. So you just chop them off, like so."

A much-dreaded voice came from behind them. "I don't see why you bother, Darcy." William de Bourgh, Anne's seventeen-year-old cousin, stood in the doorway. Fitzwilliam's face went blank with displeasure. "Everyone knows girls have no head for anything important, and Anne is far worse than usual." He looked at her contemptuously. "She isn't even pretty, and her taste is awful. If it weren't for her money, she'd only be good for -- "

She never saw him move. One moment Fitzwilliam sat peaceably next to her; the next she heard the sound of his hand striking William's face.

"How dare you?" he demanded. Anne compared Fitzwilliam's slender build to William's bulky one, and covered her eyes. "How dare you speak of a lady like that -- your own cousin -- and you call yourself a gentleman? Why, you -- "

There was a peculiar swishing sound, and then a crack followed by a shriek of pain and rage. Anne peered out timorously, and stared. Fitzwilliam's left hand was bloody, but William was crouched on the ground like an animal, one hand covering his nose, which appeared to be bleeding profusely. Fitzwilliam stood his ground, chin lifted proudly and cheeks flushed with anger. William sneered awkwardly and fled.

"Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear," Anne mumbled, racing to her cousin's side. "I can't believe you hit him."

"He deserved it," Fitzwilliam said airily, but his expression was rather thunderstruck. "I beat him."

"You're bleeding," she said.

"I beat him! I've never beaten anyone before!" Fitzwilliam's face was lit up with one of his rare, full smiles, which combined with a sudden realisation that he had just fought another boy over her honour, made her feel distinctly squishy inside. Impulsively, she flung her arms around him, and sobbed into his neck.

"Er," said Fitzwilliam awkwardly, and patted her brown head. "You shouldn't cry over him, Anne. He's not worth it."

She sniffled and pressed her lips against his flaming cheek. "You fought for me," she said, gazing at her cousin with starry eyes.

"It was nothing really," he said, with a distinctly un-modest grin. "Are you ready to go back to your sums now?"

---

The difference between Fitzwilliam and her father's nephews and nieces became ever more apparent as their visit extended. They were heavy-set, fair-haired, terribly bossy, and not very clever. Lady Leconbury constantly badgered Sir Lewis, William doted on Lady Catherine and mocked her behind her back, while most of the others were far too apathetic to even do that much. Fitzwilliam, even when he was quiet -- admittedly most of the time -- was quiet with purpose. He always stood when any lady entered a room, even Anne, and made a particular habit of staying by her side and holding chairs for her at mealtimes. By the time the assorted de Bourghs had left, Anne had almost ceased to blush at his thoughtless attention.

"I don't think I like your cousin, Anne," Mary said critically. She was the bossiest of them all, but also the only one who paid Anne much mind, so the latter felt something almost like fondness for her.

"I think he's lovely," Anne said defensively. Both girls watched as Mary's brothers and cousins made a general ruckus, laughing loudly and, in Anne's opinion, coarsely, over something or other. Fitzwilliam had reluctantly obeyed Lady Catherine's edict to spend time with the other boys, and sat a little apart, his dark hair falling about his eyes as he rested his chin in his hand and gazed dreamily off into space. Mary chuckled.

"That he certainly is," she agreed. "Just wait a few years, and you'll have more competition than you ever dreamed of."

Anne stared. "Competition? What do you mean?"

Mary smiled, smugly. "Well, you are to be married, aren't you?"

"I -- " Anne flushed. "I don't know."

"My aunt seems to know. She tells everyone that she and Lady Anne and the whole family determined that you should be wed from the moment he was born." Her eyes narrowed slightly, taking on a faintly acquisitive look. "It is a good match, for both of you."

Anne squeaked. The very idea of marriage was terrible at present. Boys were terrible -- except Fitzwilliam -- but even so, she did not mean to marry him. He was dear to her, to be certain, but only as -- as -- as himself, not a husband. She certainly did not want to be to him what Lady Catherine was to Sir Lewis -- well, she could not imagine Fitzwilliam as ever like Sir Lewis -- but even Lord and Lady Leconbury. But if that's what mother wants, and Aunt Anne wanted . . . She chewed her lip, vaguely hearing Mary going on about combining the two estates and so forth.

"What was that, Mary? I'm sorry, I didn't hear . . ."

"I understand that your uncle Darcy's estate is a noble one?" she prodded. "How much is it worth, do you think?"

"Ten thousand per annum," Anne replied, blinking a little. "It's very pretty, I understand. Fitzwilliam says it's the most beautiful place in the world, and he never lies and is never wrong."

"Oh?" Mary eyed Fitzwilliam with a different expression, then sighed. "Well, he is too young. Not much older than fifteen, I should say?"

"He's thirteen," said Anne.

"Thirteen? I had not the slightest idea. Really only a child, then."

"I think he's wonderful," she said stoutly.

"But his manners are so old-fashioned -- very grave and proper. Almost courtly. No, I shall leave his heart intact." She shook her head, and sighed again. "I prefer men -- large, dark, brooding men -- not pale, `lovely' boys like your cousin. Still, he has such long hands -- he shall be very tall, I expect. In a few years -- " She laughed, rather unpleasantly. "If he becomes a little less inflexible, and as handsome as he promises to be now, I shall come back in a few years and steal him from you, Anne."

Anne stiffened. "You talk as if he is a -- a -- " she remembered a word Lord Leconbury had used, and spat it out, "commodity."

"Oh, he is," Mary replied easily. "All men are -- especially single ones in possession of a good fortune."

Anne decided that she did not like Mary very much after all.

"But you are quite young still. I ought not speak of such things to you."

---

Anne, Fitzwilliam, and Lady Catherine were all glad to see the Leconburys and de Bourghs gone. That night at dinner, Fitzwilliam was positively talkative, and Anne bordering on effusive as they chattered freely for the first time in the last six weeks. Fitzwilliam gave it as his most determined opinion that people in general were silly, vulgar, and all manner of dreadful things -- barring the Fitzwilliam clan, naturally. Anne, the memory of Mary's enlightening conversation fresh in her mind, nodded firm acquiescence. Lady Catherine smiled and said that while this was true, society had claims on everyone, particularly those in their station of life.

"Especially you, Fitzwilliam. The lives of hundreds of people will depend upon your decisions -- your merest whim. You are not so wealthy that you may spend your fortune heedlessly, as some do; you must marry well, that you may consolidate family influence, increase your holdings that you may maintain Pemberley and -- the Pemberley estates. And your behaviour must always be above reproach. People are dreadful gossips -- if your smallest indiscretion is observed, it will be found out and spoken of through every reputable circle, and it reflects not only on you, but on us all. Do you understand?"

"Yes, aunt," he said, almost meekly.

"Anne, although your delicate constitution will keep you safe from much of the world's -- tribulations, the same applies to you. You will be fifteen next year, and although you are too young and too frail to come out then, in the eyes of many you will become an object of interest. You are the granddaughter of an earl, and the great-great-granddaughter of a duke. Your connections are more than valuable, your family is respectable, and your fortune is splendid. You must take care. There will be those who will try and deceive you both, taking advantage of your youth, your ignorance, and above all, your money. Both of you must always be on guard, even against those you might consider above reproach."

Anne puzzled over these admonitions, able to perceive her mother's lively anxiety. Then she remembered the recent visitors -- Mary's conversation, and what William had almost said about her -- she shivered. "I understand, mother," she said quietly.

"I hope so." Lady Catherine coughed. "In April, there is to be a ball."

Anne's head jerked up. "A ball? Really?"

"Naturally, you are both too young to attend, but the occasion has put me in mind. I understood from your father," her lip curled distastefully at this, "Fitzwilliam, that you have never had a dancing master."

"No, ma'am."

"It is a pity, for with your height you will be all arms and legs for a long while, but we will do what we may. Also, I have been very negligent -- " The cousins looked at one another in dismay and astonishment. " -- No lessons," she was saying. "I have written to my brother, and he says that Mr Hancock, who taught your cousins -- "

"And me," Fitzwilliam corrected. Lady Catherine patted his hand. If it had been Anne, she would have slapped hers.

"And you. He says that Mr Hancock would be only too pleased to come to Rosings and commence with your education, now that Henry is going to school."

Fitzwilliam smiled. "I would like that, Aunt Catherine."

"Good."

---

Anne found the lessons she sporadically attended to be so dull that she fell asleep in them quite frequently. Not so her cousin; Fitzwilliam was so utterly absorbed by his lessons that he seemed impervious to all else so long as they lasted, and was a far more devoted -- and far quicker -- student than she. If a page of reading was assigned, he read the entire book more often than not. Mr Hancock, who already knew Fitzwilliam from before, seemed to take it all as a matter of course. When he was reading -- Fitzwilliam, not Mr Hancock -- he remained inflexibly studious, and once, Lady Catherine actually had to whack his knuckles with her fan to gain his attention.

“I understand from your tutor that you play the pianoforte and violin, Fitzwilliam,” she said sternly. He turned pale and lowered his eyes, fingers tightening against his book.

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Why did you not mention it before?” She snapped her fan closed once more, and Fitzwilliam prudently shifted to the right.

“I -- I did not think it important, aunt.”

“My sister taught you, I suppose?”

Fitzwilliam’s clear eyes were suspiciously bright as he nodded. Anne wondered if anyone could really be that insensitive -- but if anyone, it would certainly be Lady Catherine.

“How long ago?”

“I don’t remember,” he said, lips pressed tightly together.

“You must play at least one of them fairly well by now, then. You shall have to entertain us some evening.”

Fitzwilliam looked paralysed, and said, “Lady Catherine, I really would rather not.”

“Nonsense. Your mother loved music; and so do I. She would have wished for you to become truly proficient.” This was, unfortunately, true enough; Lady Anne had been a great prodigy in her day, and began teaching her precocious young son from almost the moment he could reach the keys. Anne herself had not the slightest musical talent, and even less inclination. “You need not perform, but nevertheless you ought to practise, if only out of respect for your mother’s memory.”

This seemed to make a greater impact than any of the rest, and Fitzwilliam looked up, biting his lip. “Do you really think so?” he asked.

“I would not have said so otherwise,” Lady Catherine said grandly. Fitzwilliam looked briefly indecisive.

“But father said he didn’t want me -- ”

“Your father!” Lady Catherine looked indignant. “While you live in my house, Fitzwilliam, you will mind me; and I insist that you practise. On that pianoforte, right there -- that is the one your mother always used. The violin you shall have to abandon, of course. You will never be very good at either instrument if you do not devote your full attention to one or the other.”

Fitzwilliam looked doubtful, but nodded. “Yes, Lady Catherine.”

---

Somehow it was as if an oppressive gloom had taken up residence at Rosings, ever since Lady Anne’s death. Her niece’s life had always been rather grey and uninteresting, but the knowledge that the relief she had always looked forward to, those six weeks around Easter enlivened by that lady’s presence, was forever gone, had depressed her spirits to such a state that she scarcely realised how miserable she was. Her life seemed to stretch out interminably, and she was almost inclined to take up all those dangerous past-times her mother warned her against -- writing long letters, and talking walks outside, anything that might cut it even a little shorter. Fitzwilliam’s company helped a little; she simply enjoyed his presence. However, his grief lay so heavily upon him that the general melancholy only deepened. Anne fully expected it to remain for the rest of her life, and despairingly wondered what they had done to deserve such a fate.

Then, everything changed, with the music. She always would think of it as the music, from the first moment when she overheard the strains of an unfamiliar song. Anne was utterly bewitched, and would sit for hours as he practised. At first he only did so reluctantly, in obedience to Lady Catherine, and then ‘for mother’s sake’; but within a short time taking such pleasure in it himself that he would forget all else for hours at a time. Except -- she was not sure if it was really pleasure, not as she thought of it. There were none of the smiles and laughter she associated with an enjoyable pastime, but rather an intense, absorbed interest, rather like with his lessons, but to a far, far greater degree. It seemed impossible that her grave, retiring cousin could create such enchantment with nothing more than the touch of his fingers against the keys; and yet it was so. Once he even overwhelmed himself;--she heard an odd gasping sound, and looked past the pianoforte to Fitzwilliam. He was bent over the keyboard -- Anne’s only thought was that Lady Catherine would chide him for poor posture, until she saw the tears on his cheek. He nevertheless continued on, as ever oblivious to her eager attention; and although by the middle of the song, he was wracked by sobs, he continued on, right until he finished the soft, wistful coda. Anne had heard Lady Anne play it countless times, for it was her favourite; but her own memory of the song would always be of Fitzwilliam’s trembling rendition, the sweet melody interspersed with his boyish weeping.

He never knew she had been there, of course. Although she spent hours with him, or at least, hours near him, he only seemed aware of her presence a handful of times, and then only when she finally managed to break his concentration. He would jerk upright, the music dying away with a discordant exclamation, and say her name, his voice amusingly puzzled. She had never been so distant from anyone in her life as when Fitzwilliam played the pianoforte, yet she cherished that time. Even Lady Catherine’s icy blue eyes would soften or shine when she heard him, but she could not understand properly, for she had not the experience that Anne did. Anne knew him so powerfully; she understand the slightest turn of expression -- the smile that meant Bach, the flash of the eyes that was Handel -- she knew it all, and it seemed impossible that anyone could ever feel the connection to him that she did.

---

The two cousins peered through the railings. The ball that had occupied so much of Lady Catherine’s attention was finally underway, and Anne watched in fascination as what seemed like hundreds of glittering ladies and elegant gentlemen moved in the stately march of the dance. She sighed enviously as she caught sight of a particularly splendid young lady whirling past with a brilliant smile lighting up her face.

“I shall never look like them,” Anne lamented.

“Yes, you shall,” Fitzwilliam replied absently, peering out. “Is that Lady Catherine?”

Anne stared at her mother. With her tall, well-formed figure, strong, regular features, and the striking contrast between the dark curls piled on her head and her piercing blue eyes, Lady Catherine struck as fine a figure as any of the country’s noted beauties. The jewels and rich apparel undoubtedly helped. Sir Lewis, as nondescript as ever, was merely a pale shadow carried along in his wife’s wake. Anne realised, for the first time, that although her mother did not possess her younger sister’s great beauty, Lady Catherine and Lady Anne were really very alike.

If only I were more like mother, Anne thought wistfully. She resembled her father; the only inheritance she had from Lady Catherine was a fashionably pale complexion. Their mothers were only half-sisters, but Fitzwilliam was far more like his aunt than that aunt’s own daughter. She thought it vastly unfair.

“I hope I never have to come out,” she said morosely, her fingers tightening around the railings.

“Don’t be silly, of course you shall eventually” was Fitzwilliam’s comforting reply.

She cheered slightly. “Perhaps I shall die of consumption first.”

“You aren’t consumptive.”

“Mamma says I am.”

“She’s wrong. You’re just delicate.”

Anne froze and stared. She would never grow accustomed to the easy, matter-of-fact manner in which Fitzwilliam could say such things. Then she sighed. “I daresay no-one shall ever ask me to dance. I shall be like those poor plain girls over there, and simply wait -- and wait -- and -- ” She sniffled. “Or if they do, it will only be for my fortune.”

Fitzwilliam turned to look at her, opened his mouth; then he shut it, and smiled that smile -- the sweet, dimpled one which always made Anne’s pulse speed up, and her cheeks flush, and her insides turn rather squishy. It also made her think that maybe she might like to marry him after all. “Well, I am rich enough on my own, you needn’t worry about that,” he said.

Anne, supposing he was talking of their marriage, started and said, “I beg your pardon?”

He straightened, and bowed to her. “Miss de Bourgh, may I have the honour of this dance?”

Her disappointment lasted only a bare moment. Anne smiled and blushed. “The honour is all mine, Mr Darcy,” she said demurely, and held out her hand. She was an indifferent dancer, but Fitzwilliam had a natural grace which rendered the most trivial of movements elegant. Anne felt herself, in that brief enchanted moment, the equal of any of the ladies dancing beneath them, even Lady Catherine. The world seemed almost ethereal, whirling past; and yet she was acutely aware of everything, the touch of her cousin’s slim fingers against her own, his shining dark eyes, the weight of her hair about her shoulders, and her gold pendant cold against her warm skin.

And then it was over. “There!” he said. “Now you have danced, Anne, at a ball no less.” He smiled at her, but Anne was unable to summon up the nerve to respond in like manner. Instead, she blinked happy tears away and briefly embraced him.

“Thank you, Fitzwilliam,” she said softly. “It was very kind of you. If you dance with me at my coming-out ball I shall have nothing to fear.”

“If Lady Catherine does put it off until you are eighteen, I shall,” he promised. “I will be too young otherwise -- but I shall write Richard, and tell him that he must come and dance with you, so you are not afraid.”

What little Fitzwilliam there was in Anne asserted itself then. She stiffened her spine and flung her head back. “I am not afraid of anything,” she said grandly.

Fitzwilliam’s gaze turned sombre. “You ought to be,” he said.

---

The next few months passed peaceably enough. Fitzwilliam primarily divided his time between lessons and practising the pianoforte. Anne once overheard Mr Hancock replying to Lady Catherine’s inquiries that Fitzwilliam was the most intelligent child he had ever had the pleasure of teaching, and that were it not for Mr Darcy’s insistence that the boy remain at Rosings, he would advise sending him to university as soon as possible. He did not mention Anne, but she was not surprised; she was a poor student even without the constant foil of Fitzwilliam’s diligence and cleverness.

Fitzwilliam himself grew somewhat less withdrawn as time passed. When company came, he no longer fled outside, but stood proudly at Lady Catherine’s side. Only Anne knew how much he loathed the meaningless triviality -- “how do you do, ma’am? and sir, I hope your daughters are in good health? It is a lovely day -- ” While guests were being entertained, Fitzwilliam simply stared into the distance more often than not, his expression thoughtful and detached, unless something drew his attention, usually Lady Catherine’s fan. Anne herself was merely bored, while Lady Catherine thought it so irritating that she did not bother with it at all. If Sir Lewis thought anything about it, or indeed about anything at all, Anne could not tell.

She continued to spend hours in the parlour, stealthily following her cousin, and waiting for that familiar abstracted expression to overwhelm his features. Then she would creep in, resting her cheek against her hand, and watch dreamily. There was a greater serenity in his playing, so she always emerged from the blissful haze he created with a general feeling of comfort and contentment. She also made a truce of sorts with his cat, and by September, both girl and feline were accustomed to sitting together on Anne’s preferred chair while the unsuspecting Fitzwilliam played until his arms and fingers ached.

His diligent practising abruptly ceased with the arrival of Lady Catherine’s brother, the Earl Fitzwilliam, his colourless wife, and their younger son, Richard. Lord Fitzwilliam closely resembled Lady Anne, far more than he did Lady Catherine, and Anne was so strongly reminded of her much-lamented aunt that she burst into tears after one look at him. She supposed that Fitzwilliam, too, would be reminded of the loss that had brought him here, but the instant he set eyes on their uncle, he abandoned reserve, composure, and propriety, with a glad cry leaping to his feet and allowing himself to be swept up in the Earl’s strong embrace. Anne herself was nearly suffocated by a more sedate version of the same welcome.

Lady Fitzwilliam politely greeted her and asked all the right questions. She exuded respectability and general dreariness. Anne felt herself growing more insipid and less sensible simply after a few moments’ conversation, and was somewhat at a loss as to why a man such as her uncle, handsome, clever, and rich, should have married such a creature. It turned out that the former Miss Morton had more than a few good connections to recommend her; she had brought a fortune of thirty thousand pounds to the family.

Thirty thousand pounds or not, thought Anne, she is still the dullest person I have ever met.

Richard was the Earl’s younger son, and had as little resemblance to the Fitzwilliams as Anne herself. He was neither striking nor handsome, physically favouring his distinctly plain mother, but he possessed an easy charm, which quickly rendered him attractive in person if not countenance. He was about three years Anne and Fitzwilliam’s senior, but it was clear from their enthusiastic greeting that there was a long-standing friendship between the boys. She had never seen Fitzwilliam so animated, nor had she heard him laugh so many times in one conversation (in fact, for several weeks she had wondered if he even knew how). One would never guess from looking at him that he was not actually Lord Fitzwilliam’s son, not only from the startling resemblance between them, but their manner towards one another. The earl looked at his nephew with such fondness and approval that she wondered at Richard’s lack of jealousy, particularly when his poor academic performance was explicitly compared to Fitzwilliam’s, while she was frankly astonished to see Fitzwilliam’s respectful deference to their uncle.

The children, if the epithet could still be applied to seventeen-year-old Richard, were sent to entertain themselves while the earl and his sister talked about some dreadfully serious matter.

“I had not the slightest idea you were coming,” Fitzwilliam repeated, beaming. Richard grinned.

“Father had some business in London, and took it in his head that we should pay a visit to my aunt, while we were still in the south. I thought it was rather out-of-the-way for a mere courtesy, but . . .” He shrugged. “I wasn’t about to question it.” He looked around curiously. “Well, Anne, Rosings is certainly very . . . splendid.”

She was not altogether certain this was meant to be a compliment, but replied cautiously, “Thank you, cousin.”

She felt rather superfluous as they chattered on about people she didn’t know, but Richard was very kind and took care to redirect the conversation her way when she started to seriously consider just going away. In fact, he was so agreeable that she found herself looking forward to seeing him almost as much as she did Fitzwilliam. Still, despite the pleasure in his company, she felt a vague uneasiness. There was something, something she was excluded from -- she could not explain it, but she found herself looking forward to the Fitzwilliams’ departure, as the day when they would have Rosings back to themselves.

Fitzwilliam did not share her anticipation at the impending solitude. She thought she even saw tears glimmering in his eyes as he shook the Earl’s hand one last time, and hugged Richard tightly. His expression was positively forlorn as they drove away.

---

1799

Anne was pleased as the time resumed its normal revolution, everyone reverting to their customary behaviour. Sir Lewis was sent to Brighton “for his health”; his absence left not a ripple on their lives, and all three carried on cheerfully, or at least contentedly, in their usual pursuits. If Fitzwilliam had not reminded her, she would have forgotten that she was fifteen in January. They celebrated the occasion by serving her favourite meal, and Fitzwilliam played a song she liked for the evening’s entertainment.

In March, the Earl and Richard came to Rosings again, but accompanied by Lord Fitzwilliam’s daughter, Lady Eleanor, rather than his wife. Anne was slightly displeased, despite her sneaking fondness for her Fitzwilliam relations, until she recalled that this month was Fitzwilliam’s birthday. On the seventh, the day he turned fifteen, Lord Fitzwilliam took Fitzwilliam aside, and the two of them were closeted away for several hours. She never knew what had passed between them, but there was a subtle difference in her cousin’s demeanour from that day on. He stood a little straighter, held his head a little higher, and although retaining his customary detachment, was at least superficially more attentive to the conversation of those around him, rather than drifting into his own thoughts. There was a dignity and composure to him that she had never seen before, and somehow she felt a distance growing between them.

Later that day, the entire family gathered in the parlour, and Anne could feel a general air of anticipation about all but Fitzwilliam. At Lady Catherine’s command he played for their uncle, who actually cried and embraced him. It was only a few minutes after that that a sound was heard, of guests arriving, and Anne supposed that some neighbours, probably the Metcalfes, had called to abase themselves before Lady Catherine; but the woman that entered did not look like she could humble herself before anyone, not even if her life depended upon it.

“Lady Alexandra Darcy, Miss Darcy,” the footman said, and Fitzwilliam, seated at Lord Fitzwilliam’s right hand, lifted up his eyes with a gasp.

The lady was tall and somewhat elderly, not of Lady Catherine and Lord Fitzwilliam’s generation, but rather similar in colouring and features. She was a very find, grand woman, and clinging to her hand was a child, with brown hair and vivid green eyes; she shrieked and ran to Fitzwilliam’s side, and Anne was astonished that he was laughing and crying at the same time, as he swung the little girl into his arms.

“Georgiana, Georgiana -- ” She tightly wrapped her arms about his neck, sniffling.

“Miss you,” she said reproachfully.

“I missed you too, dearest,” he said gravely, then looked over her dark head at Lady Alexandra. “Grandmother, you . . . you came.” A smile trembled on his lips, as if he was not sure whether it was allowed or not. The lady sighed and held out her arms, and Fitzwilliam hurried to her, kissing her cheek and permitting her embrace.

Lady Alexandra and the Earl, although they had cooperated in their plans for the small celebration, were clearly not friendly, and only their mutual fondness for Fitzwilliam kept them from outright hostility. Apparently there was some sort of feud between the families, although they were related somehow. The lady was nevertheless, kind to the children, in a distant, autocratic way, particularly Georgiana.

Georgiana herself was only a baby -- just shy of three years -- and Anne could not comprehend the attraction she held for the entire household, particularly her adoring brother. They were twelve years apart, but this did not keep Georgiana from shadowing Fitzwilliam’s every step whenever possible. Of course, she was his sister -- she knew from Lady Catherine’s commentary that Lady Anne and Mr Darcy had struggled for children for years. It was only natural that, with their mother’s death, they should be close, regardless of the distance between them. Anne decided to simply enjoy the company of her uncle and cousins since it was all perfectly normal and proper.

Towards the end of their stay, there was a distinctly uncomfortable event. The Metcalfes had called, inevitably, and Harriet, the eldest Miss Metcalfe, gave Fitzwilliam such looks as had Eleanor nearly in tears in laughter. He himself seemed oblivious to her ever-increasing attentions until she surreptitiously stroked his thigh; he jumped several feet and fled with only an incoherent excuse directed toward the bewildered Metcalfes. Anne, who had been sent away to accompany Richard and Fitzwilliam, found him.

“Richard isn’t with you?”

Fitzwilliam shook his head, peering out from under the pianoforte. “Is she gone?” he whispered.

“They’re still here, but I haven’t seen her. I think she was looking for you.”

He mumbled something.

“Fitzwilliam, you have to come out.”

“No, I don’t.”

Anne sighed, then was struck with inspiration. “You’re hiding from a mere Miss Metcalfe?” she demanded, mimicking her mother’s tone as best she could. “Have you no pride?”

In a flash, he was out and in front of her, dusting himself off. “I am not hiding,” he said haughtily. “We should look for Richard.”

They eventually found him -- and Harriet Metcalfe. Together.

“Eww,” whispered Fitzwilliam.

“Why is he sticking his tongue down her throat?” Anne whispered back. He looked both horrified and perplexed.

“She sounds like he’s hurting her, but Richard wouldn’t hurt anyone.”

The cousins observed in silence for several minutes, then the curious Anne approached more closely, Fitzwilliam following faithfully behind her. Their conversation was clearly audible.

“I had to,” Miss Metcalfe was saying. Richard appeared to have lost command of his senses and was unpinning her hair. “Mamma said so . . . oh! . . .”

“I don’t think it hurts,” Anne remarked. Fitzwilliam shook his head, wide-eyed.

“. . . because . . . he’s so rich . . . but I like you much better, really. That is . . .” She gave up the effort at conversation and attacked Richard’s cravat.

“Er, is he doing what I think he is?” Fitzwilliam looked disgusted.

“I think so.”

They exchanged a glance. “Shouldn’t we go . . . do something? That doesn’t look proper to me.”

“Mamma would know what to do,” Anne said loyally. Fitzwilliam chewed his lip, but one glance at the couple had him nodding fervent agreement.

---

“Richard Anthony Fitzwilliam, are you out of your mind? What if someone had seen you?”

“Someone did see,” Eleanor said sweetly. “Two someones, actually.”

“If someone more inclined to gossip than your cousins had seen you, you would find yourself at the altar with that girl!”

Richard blanched. “But fath -- ”

“Even if you have such lamentably poor control over your impulses, there are respectable establishments! What are you thinking, seducing Lord Metcalfe’s daughter?”

“I didn’t seduce her,” Richard protested.

“It looked a very, er, mutual effort,” Fitzwilliam piped up.

“If you have no concern for your own reputation, you could at least consider the family’s -- and the sort of example you are setting your cousins! They are young, and impressionable, and -- ”

“I am not impressionable!”

“-- and you may recall that we are guests in your aunt’s home!” The Earl’s pale cheeks were flushed a dangerous shade of scarlet, his eyes black with fury. Anne shrank back against Fitzwilliam, who did not seem so much as unnerved by their uncle’s clear fury. He patted her head and sat her down.

Richard stood uncomfortably, his eyes fixed on the ground. “I’m sorry, father, Aunt Catherine, I didn’t mean . . . I only . . . I didn’t think.”

“Let us hope,” Lady Catherine snapped, “that you remember to think from henceforth. I am . . .” she pursed her lips, the next words sounding foreign on her tongue, “fond of you, and we all enjoy your company, but I will not tolerate any misbehaviour under this roof. Do you understand me?”

Richard looked flummoxed. “Yes, Lady Catherine,” he mumbled.

---

On that note, the Fitzwilliams departed for the North, and received news that Richard was entering the Army. Anne, however, found that the episode had left an indelible mark on her mind. She knew enough to gather that Richard and Miss Metcalfe’s behaviour was only inappropriate because they were unmarried. But what about when one was married?

She cast a sideways glance at her cousin as he played with Georgiana. Of course, Fitzwilliam would never act quite as Richard did -- he would never be so thoughtless and . . . inelegant -- but he was -- he would be a man, and men were . . . rather strange. She could not imagine acting so shamelessly, nor having any desire to do so, but still . . . Well, when she thought about it, it was not quite so disagreeable to her mind, if she substituted Fitzwilliam for Richard.

Anne thought over the matter at some length, and not long after the departure of Lady Alexandra and Georgiana, she did what any sensible young lady would have done. She marched up to the pianoforte and said,

“Fitzwilliam.”

He did not notice her, and continued playing, his eyes fixed on the music. Anne considered him. He had very nice eyes. They were larger than hers, tilted very slightly upwards, and in colour a brilliant dark blue, not at all muddy and dull like her own. She coughed.

“Fitzwilliam!”

He started violently, the music sliding over the keys. “Anne,” he began reproachfully, “why didn’t you say something?”

“I did,” she replied, and waved her hand reproachfully. “I was wondering if you might do me a favour.”

He straightened. “What sort of favour?”

Anne tried not to blush, and took a deep breath, keeping her eyes fixed on his, and determined they should not stray to his lips. Her heart was in her throat as she said, in a low voice just above a whisper, “Would you mind kissing me?”

---

“I’ve kissed you before,” said Fitzwilliam.

Anne flushed deeply. Oh, why must boys need everything spelled out? “Not like that. More like how, er, Richard kissed Miss Metcalfe.”

“I am not going to take your dress off.”

“No! I mean, I don’t want you to . . . I didn’t mean that -- I only meant the kissing part.” She wondered if she would ever stop blushing.

“Oh.” Fitzwilliam considered. “Er . . . why?”

“I’m curious. People seem to enjoy it, so I wanted to feel what it’s like, but with someone safe. I know you wouldn’t dishonour me.”

“That is so.” He chewed his lip, then shrugged. “Very well, then. Is there some sort of . . . rule to follow?”

This was turning out to be more complicated than she had envisioned. “Er . . . we should probably have our heads tilted different ways, so our noses don’t bump. And none of that nasty tongue business.”

He shuddered. “Certainly not.”

Anne shut her eyes, clenched her fists, and waited. She was abruptly terrified, even if it was Fitzwilliam. Oh, if Lady Catherine found out . . . was it very wrong of her? She held very stiff, suddenly certain it was all going to be dreadful; and then she felt the brush of his lips.

It wasn’t dreadful. Anne hesitated, trying to examine the sensations running through her; she was a little dizzy, so grasped his hands for balance. It was not unpleasant at all. In fact -- she took a step closer to her cousin -- it was distinctly pleasant, her lips tingling and chills racing down her arms and spine. Fitzwilliam was perfectly still, only lightly pressing his lips against hers, so Anne curiously tilted her head the other way, feeling a peculiar inclination to do something silly, like hold him against her so that he would never leave. Of course, that was ridiculous -- but still she clung tightly to his hands until he gently disentangled himself and stepped backwards.

Anne could feel her cheeks burning, and was afraid to meet his eyes. When she did, she was astonished to see that he was unaltered, standing like a cold, beautiful statue, pale and perfectly serene.

“Thank you,” she managed, deciding the whole affair required more thought. Fitzwilliam smiled, and Anne, blushing even more deeply, thought she would never look at him in quite the same way.

“You’re welcome.” He looked at her quizzically. “Are you quite well, Anne? You look flushed.”

Her mother’s voice echoed in her ears. It doesn’t matter, Anne, since you are to marry Fitzwilliam in any case. She knew perfectly well that an agreement reached by two happy young mothers before their children could walk or talk was far from binding, that it was something that would have to be reached by the both of them, together, if it was at all -- but for the first time she did not think of her mother’s constant allusions as a nuisance and an embarrassment. She stared into his steady dark eyes. She had never known anyone like Fitzwilliam -- so proud and yet so kind, like a knight who would take her away from all this, someone she loved, with every bit of feeling her fifteen-year-old heart was capable of --

She also knew, with a stunning, excruciating flash of insight, that he was relatively untouched by what had occurred. He was fond of her, in his way; but no fonder than he was of his cat, or his grandmother, or even perhaps Lady Catherine. There were no displays of sudden feeling, no great animation as when he had set eyes on the Earl or his sister. For him, it was simply the camaraderie of two cousins, so near in age, raised together. They could only speak of childish things, for their interests were so different. She tried to be interested in what he was, because he was, but had only listened uncomprehendingly, and eventually left him to his intellectual pursuits. Once they were adults, what would there be? The tenuous tie of a childhood friendship, of blood shared? The dreams of two sisters, one no longer even here to speak for herself?

Anne shivered, and said calmly, “I am perfectly well, thank you.”

---

Some weeks after that incident, Anne’s schedule was interrupted again. Fitzwilliam stayed in his room the whole day. She supposed he wished to be left alone, but after three days had passed, she had worked herself into such a state that she could bear it no longer. The silent pianoforte made her cry, Alfred looked at her reproachfully as if it were all her fault, and when she asked her mother, Lady Catherine said that it was nothing and she need not concern herself over it.

She knocked on his door, and heard his voice weakly call, “What is it?”

“Fitzwilliam, it’s Anne. Are you well?”

“Not really,” he replied shakily, and she entered, looking at him anxiously. He was lying in bed, curled up with a book in his hands, but he looked dreadful, his face pale but sweaty, his eyes dull and lustreless.

“Fitzwilliam, what is it?”

“I don’t know. It just hurts.”

What hurts?”

He gave a small gasp, eyes widening with pain, before relaxing a little again. “My legs.” Anne glanced down; they looked perfectly normal, except rather longer than she recalled. Another spasm hit him, and he shut his eyes tightly, before opening them and saying heroically,

“You can’t do anything, Anne. My aunt says it shall pass and then I will be down again. Take care of Alfred, won’t -- ah! -- you?”

She hated to leave him like this, but she would never have dreamed of denying him anything, so she nodded obediently. It was no surprise that when she tried to pick up Alfred, the wretched creature bit her.

Over the next ten weeks, Fitzwilliam occasionally joined the rest of the family for a few hours at a time, but mostly he remained in bed, trembling violently with his teeth clenched. Lady Catherine eventually summoned the local doctor, and informed him that her nephew was not ill but in a great deal of pain. Unsurprisingly, after a minute examination of Anne’s cousin, Mr Andrews agreed with her judgment (didn't everyone?), and prescribed small dosages of laudanum. Fitzwilliam loathed it, but as he could not sleep otherwise, accepted the situation and mostly slept. He began to improve in May and by June was completely recovered, and dumped the laudanum out the window.

Anne stared at him. Or to be more precise, up at him. In three months, he had grown over a foot in height, and now stood a good six inches taller than Lady Catherine.

“What has happened?” she shrieked, thoroughly exasperated with entire thing.

“Growing pains,” said Fitzwilliam succintly. “Aunt Catherine, none of my clothes fit any more.”

“We will get you new ones,” she promised.

“Growing pains,” Anne repeated. “But you were ill!”

“No,” Fitzwilliam said patiently, “I wasn’t ill, I was hurting. Growing too much, too fast. Is that going to happen to Anne, aunt?”

“No,” said Lady Catherine firmly, “else it already would have; girls grow faster than boys.”

“Oh, I’m glad, it was the most unpleasant thing that has ever happened to me.” He considered this, then smiled brightly. “I’m taller than Richard now. And Edward. And Henry. And George. And -- ”

---

Even once he was recovered and in proper clothes, everything seemed different. He was for the first time slightly clumsy, as if uncertain what to do with his arms and legs. Only at the pianoforte did he seem his old self, but he spent very little time with it now. A letter had arrived in late June, and Fitzwilliam had looked so pleased and happy, and Lady Catherine so cross, that Anne longed to know what was in it; but nobody said. After that Fitzwilliam devoted nearly all of his time to his lessons, studying and memorising and learning at such a pace that Anne was simply bewildered and simply listened while he recited or talked. He didn’t forget, either, as she always did when she tried to hurry up; his entire heart seemed to be in it. He was so different from the shy, withdrawn boy who had first arrived at Rosings, that she felt she scarcely knew him anymore. He did not practise more than a few hours out of each week, and because he simply fit it in when he had time, she missed hearing him as often as not.

And then, in August, there was a guest. She knew she had seen him before but could not clearly remember. Although he seemed about Lady Catherine’s age, he was still very handsome, with thick gold curls lightly sprinkled with silver and bright green eyes. He was nearly as tall as Lord Fitzwilliam, but it was only when he smiled, a dimple appearing in his left cheek, that she realised who he was.

“U-uncle Darcy!” she stammered. “I did not know you were expected!”

“Your mother must have forgotten to mention it,” he said dryly. “How are you, Anne?”

They all sat in the parlour for an uncomfortable few minutes, until Mr Darcy observed that the woods looked lovely and, as he had been sitting in a carriage for days, would like to take a walk in them, if Fitzwilliam would accompany them. Lady Catherine sniffed, but Fitzwilliam eagerly agreed. Anne’s curiosity was so pressing that after several minutes of sitting in silence, she opted to go for a walk. What Lady Catherine did not know could not upset her, she reasoned, so she swore Mrs Jenkinson to secrecy, snatched up her shawl, and crept out. It did not take her very long until she found herself close enough to Mr Darcy and Fitzwilliam to hear their voices, and she settled against a tree comfortably.

“I have not been a very good example to you, I fear,” Mr Darcy was saying, in his light, pleasant voice.

“Oh, yes you have!” Fitzwilliam cried earnestly. “I should have no idea about how to behave to servants and tenants and -- all those -- if I had not seen you. I do not wish to be like Lady Catherine, although I am fond of her.”

“I have been a good master,” he agreed, but there was a vein of disturbance running through his tone. “I hope you will be a better.”

“I shall try,” Fitzwilliam said nervously.

Mr Darcy cleared his throat. “There is no greater responsibility than that which you have to the estate, Fitzwilliam, but one.”

“Sir?”

“Your sister must always be your first concern, until you are married and have children of your own. She has been left to herself too much.” He sighed. “There are some things I have done well. I have been generous and liberal, I hope; but I have not been a good father to you and Georgiana, nor was I a good husband to your mother.”

Anne expected a loyal protest; but Fitzwilliam remained silent.

“We were ill-suited, you know.”

“Yes,” said Fitzwilliam quietly, “I know.”

“I do not wish for you to suffer what I did, or as is more likely, what your mother did. In just over a half-year, you will be sixteen. There are women who are married at that age.”

Fitzwilliam squeaked. “I am not a woman, father!”

Mr Darcy laughed. “No, of course not. But you are growing up. You are taller than I am, son, and will be taller.”

“This isn’t going to happen to me again, will it?”

“No. You shall probably grow a little here, and a little there, and by the time you are twenty or five-and-twenty you shall have all your height. I understand from your aunt that you have shown little interest in,” Mr Darcy coughed, “ladies. But that will come.”

“Oh, I hope not,” said Fitzwilliam artlessly. “Most are very dull and very silly, and even the sensible ones are not really clever. I can’t talk to them at all, so they make me feel stupid too.”

“There are more qualities to recommend a lady than her wit,” Mr Darcy said. “You will understand when you are older.”

“Everyone always says that, and I never do.”

“Regardless, it is so.” He coughed again. Anne wondered if he was ill. “When you go to university, you will be considered a man, do you understand?”

“Er,” said Fitzwilliam. “Not really.”

“This is why I wished you to wait, although you are more than prepared academically. This is the time for young men to, ehm, sow their wild oats, before they -- hopefully -- settle down. It will be very different from how you have lived. I will confess, that much of my behaviour, in retrospect, was reprehensible -- although certainly no more so than that of my friends and other men my age. But it was a different time, and we had different ideas and different rules. I fell in with some undesirable companions, and I hope you will be on your guard against such -- influences.”

“I don’t want friends, father,” Fitzwilliam said, “I just want to study.”

“We all require companionship, Fitzwilliam,” Mr Darcy said gently, “even those as solitary as you.”

“I have my cousins and George, and I shall be married sometime. That is enough, isn’t it?”

“Only two of your cousins and George are at university, and all in different colleges from where you will be. You shall get very lonely very quickly if you do not cultivate friendships with those of like mind with yourself, and you will be vulnerable to those of more vicious disposition, and to their influence.”

Fitzwilliam gave a resigned sigh. “Yes, sir.”

“This other -- I am not aware how much you know. About, erm, men and women and, er . . .”

“I read about it,” Fitzwilliam said composedly. “It sounded rather messy.”

Mr Darcy made a choked sound. “Ah . . .”

“I was not entirely certain, but I think that is what Miss Metcalfe and Richard meant to do, which was rather foolish then, for how they would know whether there would be a child or not? And then he would have to marry her, and who could be happy with someone like that? He said he wasn’t really thinking, but how can one not think? Unless you are asleep, of course. But even then you think in your dreams, mostly. Besides, I looked it up in the Bible, and if you’re not married it’s fornication and that’s a sin. Isn’t it, father?”

“Yes,” Mr Darcy gasped.

“And if you are married but you lay with someone who isn’t your wife, that’s adultery, and that’s even worse -- worse than anything except murder and denying the Spirit. But if it’s so dreadful, then why do so many people do it? Do they not know that their souls are in danger?”

Mr Darcy was silent for a long while, and finally said, “They know, but many -- most, even -- do not look beyond their present wishes and desires, and they do not care greatly about the future.”

“Oh. How strange.”

Anne decided it was well past time that she should have stopped listening, and feeling both infinitely more knowledgeable and very naïve and ignorant, she returned to the house. It was only there that what she had heard truly hit her.

Fitzwilliam was leaving.

1 Comments:

At 1:15 PM, Blogger aquamum said...

I like this story.
So Anne feels for Fitzwilliam, but he does not feel for her?
Update with another chapter soon please

 

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