Friday, March 10, 2006

The Rich Are Always Respectable, Part I

A/N: This story operates on two assumptions: (1) Lady Catherine never came to see Elizabeth at Longbourn, and (2) Darcy is too noble for his own good. A family crisis comes up which alters the end of P&P.

Prologue

May 1812

Stephen Deincourt, Lord Westhampton, would never forget the day he arrived in the Darcys’ drawing room, just as a young black-haired lady was leaving. She said something polite and slipped away before he could gain more than an impression of large green eyes in a pale face. He involuntarily glanced over his shoulder.

“What a beautiful young woman,” he remarked. Darcy looked as if he did not know whether to be more amused or alarmed.

“Georgiana?” he said, a little blankly. Lord Westhampton blinked. “Yes, I suppose so.”

That was little Georgiana?” He struggled to reassimilate this concept into his understanding of his connections. He had never given his youngest relation much thought. She was only sweet little Georgiana. He had scarcely seen her, she was only a child — well, obviously not a child any longer. Suddenly his interest in his cousin spiked, just as Darcy’s eyes narrowed very slightly.

“Miss Darcy to you,” he replied coolly, and with not a little suspicion. Westhampton laughed ruefully. Darcy had always been too clever by half.

“Surely you do not suspect me of designs on your sister, Darcy?” So she was out now. No doubt with her looks, pedigree, and fortune, she would not lack for suitors. Perhaps there were already a number regularly calling on Miss Darcy, all of course under her brother’s sharp eye.

“Of course not — as such,” Darcy said cautiously. “But, you know, one can never be too careful.”

“I do not know,” Westhampton returned easily. “I have no sisters or daughters, and my only eligible cousin is the lovely Miss Darcy, who I have just been expressly warned off from.”

Darcy did not appear fooled by his easy manner. He replied, “I did not say so. You may speak to Miss Darcy all you wish, if you do so with propriety, but I will not have her upset.” Then he added with unusual intensity, “She is not like other young ladies, with nothing but dances and millinery in their heads, she is sensible and sweet-natured and she deserves better.” He was quite pale.

“I see,” said Westhampton. A frightening creature, to be sure! But a devoted brother’s partiality must be taken into account. And, of course, a devoted brother’s fierce protectiveness. “You are a most conscientious brother, Darcy.”

“Thank you,” he replied dryly.

His close friendship with the family gave him an easy excuse to call on the Darcys frequently, and develop an acquaintance with young Miss Darcy. She was very like her brother, not quite so handsome, with striking regular features she had yet to fully grow into, a very fair complexion, and formal, gracious manners which not the best of company could make easy. Like her brother she was rational-minded, even-tempered, and quietly obstinate. Proud, reserved, and not only a little shy, she scarcely spoke before others; however, she was highly accomplished, even for a lady of her station; she drew, sang, played the harp and pianoforte, spoke several languages with ease, danced elegantly when she could be persuaded to do so, and once brought out of her shell could speak cleverly and sensibly on most subjects.

She would, he decided, make some man a fine wife; and he would not be wholly adverse to being that man. There were, perhaps, other young ladies as eligible, or nearly so, despite his only modest fortune; certainly there were others more lively and engaging. Yet Georgiana was the only one he remained unwaveringly drawn to. Their connection made matters simple. Georgiana’s peculiar modesty ensured that she was at present oblivious to his interest.

Darcy was not fooled, but as he did not explicitly warn him off Miss Darcy, Westhampton felt that nearly constituted encouragement. An offhand invitation to come to Pemberley during the summer months increased his confidence, particularly when Miss Darcy enthusiastically seconded the offer. He was determined to remain in their company, even if it meant enduring the Bingleys. Westhampton had no idea what had possessed Darcy to befriend such people, but his cousin had always been rather strange that way. He gladly accepted the invitation.

---

September 1812

“. . . I can only ask, dearest, most beloved, Georgiana,” Lord Westhampton concluded, “that you do me the honour of accepting my offer.” His hands were clammy and doubtless it was vastly unromantic to feel severe discomfort in his knees as he knelt before her.

Georgiana looked at him gravely. “I should be able to say something very clever and interesting — Stephen,” she replied unsteadily, clasping his hand. His thoughts were too scattered to comprehend this, and, lost somewhere between despair and hope, he could only say plaintively,

“Georgiana?”

She smiled, with a sudden rare brilliance. “Yes, Stephen; I would be honoured to be your wife.”

He laughed, flooded by joy, and looked down at her long, slender fingers, for the first time intertwined with his. “You will never regret this, I promise,” he said, grinning like a boy before kissing her hand exuberantly. Georgiana lowered her eyes, blushing a very little.

“You needn’t kneel,” she said softly, and he instantly interpreted the invitation for what it was and seated himself beside her.

“I have missed you, my love, more than I can say.”

She entirely reciprocated the sentiment, and after several minutes, or hours, of lovers’ talk, Westhampton returned to his original subject with characteristic tenacity.

“I cannot comprehend the need for you to be at Netherfield all this time. What have you to do with Bingley’s wedding?”

She laughed. “I wish to be in Hertfordshire, with my brother, and he wishes me with him. Mr Bingley was kind enough to invite me to the wedding, and Fitzwilliam is best man. You know that Mr Bingley is Fitzwilliam’s particular friend, it would be very rude to refuse.”

“If I understand Darcy’s cryptic comments aright, you would be in good company.”

She lifted up her eyes, surprised. “I beg your pardon?”

“The family of Bingley’s intended?”

“Oh.” She coloured. “They are certainly — singular,” she managed to say diplomatically. “Miss Bennet is perfectly amiable, and Miss Elizabeth is charming. Even Mr Bennet is pleasant, once one gets to know him.”

“Which,” he replied sardonically, “leaves only the mother and three younger daughters.”

“I have not met the youngest daughter, she is married,” Georgiana said, lowering her eyes once more.

“To the son of your family’s steward!” he replied contemptuously. “Even Bingley could do far better than that.”

Georgiana cleared her throat. “Before we — proceed with this engagement, my lord,” she said steadily, “there is — something that I — I ought to speak with you about.” She inhaled deeply. “The summer before last, I — I did something very foolish, and were it not for Fitzwilliam, I — I do not know — I would be so beyond, so lost to my present happiness that I — I cannot conceive of it.”

He smiled reassuringly. “Come, Georgiana, tell me; I am sure it cannot have been all that bad.”

“Oh yes, yes it was!” she cried. “Stephen, I —”

The door opened, and Darcy, looking very unlike himself, entered. His eyes caught sight of their clasped hands and he smiled tiredly, raising an eyebrow slightly. “I beg your pardon, I must speak with you, Westhampton, on a matter of some urgency. Georgiana, you may join us if you like.” He frowned as he took in her pallor. “You look upset, my dear. Is something wrong?” His eyes instantly went to Westhampton, and hardened.

“No, no, I have never been happier,” she said sincerely. He relaxed, and brother and sister smiled at one another in perfect understanding.

“Then perhaps there is another matter of business you would care to speak to me on, Westhampton?”

“I — yes, of course,” he said hurriedly. “Miss Darcy, you do not mind — ”

She smiled serenely. “Of course not.”

The two men proceeded to Darcy’s study, where Westhampton prepared himself to ask the blessing of a man two years his junior. Even as he formulated a stiff request for Miss Darcy’s hand, he instantly dismissed it. The next, a comfortable, even casual offer, was even more swiftly discarded.

“Darcy,” he said helplessly, “I — I — ”

“You may ask me for Georgiana’s hand in a few minutes,” Darcy said tersely.

“But I — ”

The other man’s eyes turned icy. “I hope you do not mean to say you have not an intention of doing so?”

“No, of course, I love Georgi — ”

“Miss Darcy.”

The sharp, almost unsteady reply jarred Westhampton out of his own nervousness. Darcy was of a particularly imperturbable temperament, to an even greater degree than his sister. Westhampton felt an unpleasant stirring along his spine. “Good Lord, Darcy, what is it?” He examined his friend carefully. There was something vaguely disharmonious about him, not at all in keeping with his normal appearance. “You look dreadful,” he said critically. “It cannot be G— Miss Darcy, I have been with her this past hour at least.”

Darcy smiled faintly. “Yes, I know. It is Lady Rosemary. Did you hear about the Duke of Albini’s — courtship, for lack of a better word?”

Westhampton grimaced. “Yes, along with the rest of London. Poor Rosemary. I cannot imagine he took her rejection well.” Lady Rosemary Alfreton was their only other relation, a sensible, refined young woman of about nine-and-twenty, and a favourite with both cousins. There was no doubt in his mind that she would have refused the duke, whose depraved character was a matter of public knowledge, regardless of circumstance.

“No,” said Darcy sombrely; “not well at all.”

No fool himself, Westhampton caught his tone easily enough. “What has he done? She is in full command of her fortune, he could not possibly have influenced her in that manner. We are her only relations, she need not sacrifice herself for our sakes — ”

“It seems,” said Darcy quietly, “that he — compromised her honour.”

“What?” Westhampton cried. “Impossible, how could — ”

“I do not know,” interrupted Darcy, “she was too overwrought to speak coherently.”

“She went to you?”

“Of course,” he replied impatiently, “who else did she have? You know how delicate her sense of honour is, how she shrinks from scandal. Even if he did nothing else, this would be enough. I did not dare leave her alone.”

“He means to force her to marry him.” Westhampton tapped his fingers. “She has no-one in the world to protect her, but us. And even so — with his influence, he could very well claim — well, whatever he liked. She travelled so much last year, he might very well say they eloped or something equally ridiculous. She is known for her eccentricity.” He sighed. “What a disaster.”

“Yes,” Darcy said succintly.

“Something must be done,” Westhampton continued agitatedly. “If only she could be married, but I can’t imagine who would take her, after this. No, it must remain within the family.” The realisation struck him in an instant. “You, or I, must . . .”

“Yes.”

“But I — you saw us, Darcy, surely you cannot expect — I have heard of no recent attachment on your part. No attachment at all, in fact, you live as plainly as ever. It is a great step, to be sure, but she is a fine woman, you could do far worse.” He looked at his cousin earnestly. “I have just promised myself to your sister, Darcy.”

“Yes,” he said, “I know. I supposed as much when I spoke with Rosemary.” His expression was contemplative, wistful, almost grieved. A horrible suspicion flashed into Westhampton’s mind.

“Darcy, you are not — you are not engaged, surely? I had not heard, but you have spent a great deal of time in the country, and I know you were in Ireland for some time in June. Perhaps something quiet — ”

“No,” said Darcy softly, “there is no understanding.” He sighed. “You are quite right, Westhampton. We shall speak to Rosemary in the morning. Now, I believe you have a question to ask me, regarding my Georgiana.”

---

Chapter One

“Fitzwilliam, you must not be rash — ”

“My dear cousin, please be rational,” Westhampton interrupted, exasperated with his relations’ tactful manoeuvring. “We cannot be anything but rash.”

Lady Rosemary smiled faintly. “I am very grateful to you both, but this matter is my concern.”

“Rosemary,” Georgiana said gently, “if this becomes public knowledge, it will not only be your concern. It reflects on all of us.”

Rosemary lowered her eyes, playing listlessly with the fringe on her shawl. “I cannot ask such a sacrifice of you, cousin.”

“I did not hear you ask anything,” Darcy replied easily. “Rosemary, it is a good match for both of us. I am almost surprised I never thought of it before.” He did not mention what everyone present knew; Rosemary’s fiancé had died ten years before and since then, she had refused to entertain even the idea of another attachment.

“You gain nothing,” she said, raising her cool blue eyes to meet his own. “You do not need the connection, not with Stephen and Georgiana’s engagement; you could have someone far wealthier if you wished it, but you do not need fortune in any case; and you do not love me.”

“Do you think, my dear, that I would do this for someone I did not love?” Darcy inquired softly. “No, Mary, I am not in love with you; but love is not enough for a good marriage in any case. Perhaps it is even better to base a marriage on solider principles.”

Rosemary looked down, her slender, almost transparent hands settling on her lap. “Be that as it may, you gain nothing, and I — I receive everything. I could not enter into such an unequal union.”

“It is not unequal. You are in rank and fortune my equal, or almost so; your connections are nearly identical to my own; and if I may say so without sounding unduly melodramatic, I believe you would bring something of substance to my life.”

She threw him a sceptical look. “I cannot believe it. What do you suppose I could give you?”

“Companionship,” he said, simply. “When Georgiana and Stephen marry, I will be left to myself; and if there is one thing above all others I do not wish, it is that. I am happy for them, but selfishly dissatisfied for me. Rosemary — ” he leaned forward intently, “I do not wish to be alone. I want a family, Mary, a wife I may hold in the highest esteem and respect, children. No, I am not in love with you, and I would hazard to say that you are not in love with me; but, Mary, has love brought either of us any lasting happiness? Not I, to be sure. I hope, I believe, that a more steadfast attachment — for we have always been fond of each other, have we not? — will grant us both some degree of contentment.”

The other three stared at him, Georgiana’s expression faintly guilty. “I — I had not thought of that,” Rosemary said. “Fitzwilliam, you are certain? You will not regret it? I do not think I could live with myself if I knew I had made you unhappy.”

“I shall not, I promise,” he said, briefly clasping her hand.

Rosemary laughed, suddenly. “This shall be a story to tell our children. I do not think I have ever received a more unromantic proposal of marriage.”

“I have a rare gift.”

---

To avoid any and all complications, Lord Westhampton procured a special license, before the Duke had so much as guessed whither Lady Rosemary had gone. The only possible touch of scandal to the affair was its unseemly haste; they were married within three days of the engagement. It was a small, private affair, attended only by the six surviving members of the Darcy-Deincourt clan (including the bride and groom), the clergyman officiating, and the Fitzwilliams, who overcame their (entirely reciprocated) antipathy towards the Deincourts in order to lend their support to Darcy. “You are a fine man,” the Earl told his nephew, clasping his shoulder. Darcy only smiled.

“Dearly beloved,” the bishop began, with a proud look for his favourite godchildren, “we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of this congregation, to join together this man and this woman in holy matrimony . . .”

Rosemary inhaled deeply, glancing over at her cousin’s — fiancé’s — tall, upright form. His dark eyes were fixed on the bishop, without any shadow of regret or melancholy, or ill intent. The great weight she had carried on her shoulder’s since the Duke’s attack lightened, a little. He was too good for her, but she would try, she could be a good wife to him. With a guilty flush, she returned her attention to the words of the marriage ceremony, although she knew them so well she could have recited them by heart.

“First, it was ordained for the procreation of children . . .” Children. She had always loved children, and almost more than James’ death, she had regretted that loss. And Fitzwilliam, too, he had been wonderful with Georgiana, and later on, his own godchildren and cousins. The realisation struck her without warning; it was a gift, this marriage, a second chance for her, and perhaps for him.

“Secondly, it was ordained for a remedy against sin . . .” To avoid fornication. Never again, she thought; no man would dare lay a hand on Fitzwilliam Darcy’s wife. The burden lightened still more, and her sharply-drawn breath startled the bishop, who threw her a reproving look. Rosemary tried to feel penitent and lowered her eyes, but the relief spreading through her was too much for words.

“Thirdly, it was ordained for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity.” Fitzwilliam’s voice echoed in her ears. Companionship . . . I do not wish to be alone. I want a family, Mary. She blinked rapidly, holding tears back, and thought, So do I. She had always been a little solitary, but the company of no-one but a series of companions who endured her eccentricities for the generous wage she paid them, that was not company at all. He would understand — he was so much that way himself —

He was speaking, in his clear, unwavering voice, “I, Fitzwilliam, take thee, Rosemary, to my wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I plight thee my troth.”

Rosemary smiled brilliantly, and repeated the words: “I, Rosemary, take thee, Fitzwilliam, to my wedded husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, cherish, and to obey, till death us do part, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I give thee my troth.”

He replied, slipping Lady Anne’s ring on her hand, “With these ring I thee wed, with my body I thee worship, and with all my worldly goods, I thee endow: in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.”

At the end of the ceremony, her ring warm against her finger, she signed her name, Rosemary Darcy.

---

Chapter Two

“Shall you return to Pemberley, Darcy?” Bingley inquired, once compliments were paid and greetings exchanged. Rosemary tried not to smile. He was a very young man, Mr Bingley, agreeable, artless, enthusiastic, and eager to please. Too eager, perhaps. He lacked her husband’s effortless elegance, and although handsome he was not striking; in addition he seemed almost ungainly, just rather rough about the edges. His build was not light, although at five foot nine he was barely Georgiana’s height. He was impossible not to like, but she remained in some doubt as to what of substance there was in him.

“Not unless you are retracting your invitation,” Darcy replied.

“Excellent!” Bingley beamed. “Of course, you must come as well, Lady Rosemary — if your health permits,” he added, uncertainly.

“Thank you, sir, I will be honoured,” she replied demurely. The proverbial bull in the china shop, Bingley exuberantly talked away, undeterred by his companions’ long silences, until he remembered some appointment or another, at which point he was gone with hardly a by-your-leave. Rosemary took a deep breath.

“Your friend is very . . . enthusiastic,” she said carefully. Darcy laughed.

“Oh, yes, that is the word,” he replied. “He is much more so since his engagement, however. He makes us feel about twenty years older.”

“Us?” Westhampton repeated, the Bingley-incited disdain on his face slowly replaced by his customary good humour. Darcy coloured slightly.

“Miss Elizabeth and I. We are friends, of sorts.” He shook his head. “When do you wish to go into Hertfordshire, Rosemary?”

She glanced at Georgiana. “As soon as is agreeable to you both.”

“Darcy,” Westhampton interjected, “do you mean to tell Bingley . . .?”

Darcy shook his head. “No. I do not think any outside the family circle need know. Except — ” he hesitated. “I have some friends, I think they — there is — they deserve an explanation, I think.”

“More friends, Darcy?” Westhampton shook his head. “I never thought you to be so friendly.”

“One can hardly go eight-and-twenty years in the world without amassing a few,” Darcy said. “After all, one chooses one’s friends — unlike family.” He smiled at his cousin. “They are a rather young couple — about five-and-thirty, I would think — and relations of the Bennets.”

“Oh, Lord.”

“Stephen!” Georgiana said sharply. Rosemary and Darcy favoured him with identical disapproving looks.

“Have I fallen into a nest of Evangelists?” Westhampton shook his head. “These relations, where can we find them?”

“Gracechurch-street,” said Darcy, as easily as if he had spent his entire life befriending tradesmen. “Perhaps you might wish to stay here, Westhampton? Only Rosemary and I really ought to go, although Georgiana — if you wish it — ”

“No,” said Georgiana, with a shy smile for her fiancé, “Mrs Annesley may come down and chaperone us, you take Rosemary to see the Gardiners. Please give them my best wishes, Fitzwilliam.”

“Of course, my dear.”

Rosemary looked about in wonder as they drove through the town. Once they left the fashionable streets where she had spent most of her life, conditions swiftly deteriorated. She had never seen so many starving, dirty, utterly wretched people. She could not keep from asking her husband, “Fitzwilliam, why is it like this? It is not at home, I have seen how your tenants live; surely it need not be this way?”

“No,” he said grimly, “it need not; but it is, and one man — ten men, for that matter — cannot do a great deal for them.”

She shivered. “I do not like town. When may we go to Pemberley?”

“As soon as Bingley is married, although we shall probably stop in town for an evening on the way.”

It was crowded, noisy, and dirty. Rosemary could not imagine how Darcy had ever met such people — whatever they might be, she simply had no idea what her fastidious husband had been doing here to begin with. He paid two of the boys to take care of the horses, and knocked on the door. Rosemary was unaccountably nervous, she knew from what he had said earlier that he thought very highly of these people, from almost the first moment of their acquaintance, he said, he had been struck by their good sense and pleasant, well-bred manners. Yet how did one speak to such people? She knew servants and tenants; and social acquaintances, and family, and others she might associate with as an equal. This, however, was utterly beyond her experience, and for almost the first time in their lives, she resolved to follow Fitzwilliam’s lead.

Darcy gave his card to the servant, but nothing could have prepared her for the sight of two children, who peered around the corner then shrieked, “Mr Darcy! Mr Darcy!” and launched themselves at him. She was even more surprised to see Darcy laugh and lift them up in his arms. The little girl kissed his cheek enthusiastically and the little boy seemed scarcely able to keep himself from jumping up and down, chattering madly about his latest adventure. Rosemary, who had spent little time with children in the last half-decade, was taken aback, but when the little girl smiled winningly at her, she could not keep from smiling in return.

“These, my dear, are Miss Amelia and Master Edward Gardiner,” Darcy said, still laughing a little. “Now you two, you must stay still long enough to meet my wife.”

They both stared. “You said you were not married, Mr Darcy,” Amelia said accusingly.

“And so I was not — then. We were just married two days ago,” Darcy explained, ruffling her hair. “This is my wife, Lady Rosemary Darcy.”

Both children stared at her gravely, then Edward said politely, “My sister and I are pleased to meet you, Lady Rosemary.”

“Thank you,” said Rosemary, and on impulse leaned down to kiss his cheek. He giggled.

Amelia slipped down and curtseyed, then declared, “Rosemary is for remembrance.”

Rosemary laughed. “Yes, so it is.”

“You are very pretty, as pretty as Mr Darcy and my cousin Jane.”

She glanced sideways at her cousin, who had coloured deeply, and could not help laughing even more. At that moment, a tall, dark-haired woman entered, the children returned to her, and she addressed Darcy with a smile.

“Mr Darcy, it is a pleasure,” she said sincerely.

“Thank you, Mrs Gardiner,” Darcy replied. “May I introduce you to my wife, Lady Rosemary Darcy?”

“Your wife?” Mrs Gardiner positively started, before turning to Rosemary. The two ladies curtseyed. “Mr Darcy, Lady Rosemary, you must come in. Edward, stop pulling Mr Darcy’s hair. My husband is in, I am sure he will be delighted to meet you, your ladyship.”

---

The Gardiners, when they heard the entire story, were all compassion and sympathy. Mrs Gardiner fetched tea, and briefly clasped Rosemary’s cold hands. “There, you both must take care of yourselves. What a tragedy, I am more sorry than I can say.” With a more serious look, she added belatedly, “I hope you will both be very happy.”

“I am certain we shall,” Rosemary said, a little awkwardly. Mrs Gardiner’s manner was distinctly motherly, for all that she was hardly older than either of the Darcys, and she fussed over them both as if they were children. Mr Gardiner gave them an understanding smile.

“You need not fear any reprisals from us,” he said, speaking very quietly to Darcy. “I will confess to being disappointed, there is no point in denying that, but there was little enough choice in the matter. You are a fine man, sir.”

“So I am told,” Darcy replied, with a faint smile. “Thank you, Mr Gardiner.”

“You are quite welcome. I am honoured to call you a friend, and I hope this unfortunate matter will not prevent our meeting again.”

“Certainly not.”

Rosemary smiled in relief. She had not understood how her deliberate, careful husband could have formed such a close friendship within a few weeks of acquaintance, not until she met them and was welcomed almost into the family. They were — kind. That was exactly the word. Spurred on by her gratitude, particularly to Mrs Gardiner (who instead of looking horrified when she began crying, as Rosemary’s own mother would have done, gave her a handkerchief, plied her with more tea, and offered her whatever comfort she could), she said, “I hope, that whenever you are in the area, you will visit us, we would be delighted.”

“Thank you very much,” Mrs Gardiner said, surprised. “Mr Gardiner does have some business in Yorkshire in December — ”

“Then you must come,” Darcy said, straightening, “if only for a few days. It would be an honour, I assure you. And, Mrs Gardiner, surely you would like to see Christmas in Derbyshire again, you have been gone so long.”

The Gardiners laughed heartily. “You are a very wicked young man, tempting me with such delights! You ought to be ashamed of yourself!” Mrs Gardiner chided. Then, with a pleading look, she turned to her husband. “Edward . . .”

“Well, we shall have to see closer to the season, but if my sisters make no demands on me, I see no reason we could not come. The inn, is, I believe — ”

“Oh!” interjected Rosemary, “surely you would not stay at an inn? Not at Christmas. You must come to Pemberley — Fitzwilliam, I am sure you agree?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Thank you very much,” Mrs Gardiner said gently. “If it can be arranged, we shall be there.”

“I shall write towards the end of November, when I have a clearer idea of our itinerary,” Mr Gardiner added, and the Darcys stood. The sun was beginning to set.

“My dear girl — ” Mrs Gardiner took Rosemary’s hands as they prepared to leave — “take care of yourself, and your husband. He is a rare man, as I think you have discovered.”

“Yes, he is.” She held back tears once more, this time more successfully — “Mrs Gardiner, I cannot thank you enough for your kindness, there is no reason you should treat me as you have — I know it is not what you and Mr Gardiner would have wished — ”

“Never mind Mr Gardiner and I,” she said with a lovely smile, as the two men shook hands. “You have suffered enough, my dear, you need not do so on anyone else’s account.”

Rosemary smiled tremulously. “Thank you, Mrs Gardiner. I hope we will see you at Pemberley this winter.”

“As do I. Edward, you shall not engage Mr Darcy on politics, we must let them go.”

Everyone laughed, and Rosemary could not keep herself from saying, once her husband had tucked a blanket about her and headed off to their house, “I see, now, why you wanted them to know. Thank you for taking me, I like them very much indeed. It was so comforting, I hope we shall see a great deal of them in the future.”

“You are quite welcome,” he returned warmly, “although my motivations were not quite as unselfish as they ought to have been.”

“So Mr Bingley’s Miss Bennet is Mr Gardiner’s niece? Is his sister much like him?” she inquired innocently, and watched with interest as Darcy desperately tried to keep from laughing on a public street.

“Ah, no, not particularly,” he finally managed, in a strangled voice. “You shall see, next week, when we go to Hertfordshire for the wedding.”

Rosemary curled against him as he drove on. “I suppose so,” she said sleepily.

---

Chapter Three

Amiable and pleasing as Mr Bingley was, his sister — despite the very strong physical resemblance she bore him — was just the opposite. Miss Bingley could have given Lord Westhampton lessons in haughtiness, and with less cause. No wonder he so disliked them all. Rosemary cordially expressed thanks for Miss Bingley’s hospitality. Miss Bingley cordially expressed thanks for Lady Rosemary’s presence at her brother’s wedding. It was altogether exhausting and Rosemary claimed a headache she was really beginning to feel.

If it were only Miss Bingley’s hypocrisy and her brother’s perpetual high spirits, it could be endured easily enough, Rosemary thought, as she allowed her maid to unpin her hair, and luxuriated in the sudden relief. But to add to it all, that odious pair of harpies seemed unable to keep their respective eyes off her husband. Regardless of the circumstances of the marriage, she was his wife and the only person with a right to look at him like that (were she so inclined, which she wasn’t). There was undisguised acquisitiveness in Miss Bingley’s look (leer she mentally characterised it), while Mrs Hurst restrained herself to a sort of vapidly eager interest.

The husband in question, dear man that he was, completely ignored the sisters and their machinations, paying no attention but what they were owed as his friend’s sisters. He had warned her that they were not especially kind and he had no great fondness for them, not to mention the epicurean Mr Hurst. Unpleasant as the Bingley sisters were, at least they did not lack (much) intelligence; Mr Hurst, however, was utterly ridiculous.

“I do not like them, Fitzwilliam,” she confided that evening. Darcy laughed, as he had been unable to do since they had arrived that evening, fettered by the eyes of another man’s servants and the everpresent harpies.

“I confess, neither do I. They were not so dreadful when they were younger, but Miss Bingley in particular has grown very — disappointed.”

Rosemary could not keep herself from smiling as she looked at their reflections in the mirror. “Would it be terribly impudent of me, my dear, to ask if her disappointment was quite so acute before our marriage?”

“Very impudent,” he said, the dimple in his cheek belying his words. For a moment they maintained proper gravity, before bursting into laughter together.

Why — it struck Rosemary for the first time as she caught him in the mirror — her husband was really quite, quite handsome. He had nothing of James’ sunny, warm charm, James had physically been more like Mr Bingley, not tall but broad-shouldered, golden-haired, easy-mannered and quick-tempered. He had been aggressive when he was angry, she remembered, and a fine boxer. A little harsh and rough-seeming at first. She had thought him like an ancient warrior, a modern Viking or Angle walking about in a coat and cravat. Fitzwilliam was a different sort altogether, with his cold, steely beauty, his sharp brilliant mind; even as a boy, he had fought with words rather than fists, and even now, she had the vague suspicion that his fascination with ideas, histories, theories, had not abated in the least. Whimsically, she wondered what he could have been — a Roman governor? a Greek philosopher? a Christian martyr? She thought of him standing beside her at their wedding, upright and unwavering — and dismissed the sudden intense guilt which swept over her.

“Rosemary?” Darcy said gently.

“Oh!” She twisted her head to look at him affectionately. “I was just lost in my thoughts, I beg your pardon.”

“What were you thinking about?”

She laughed suddenly. “You, actually.”

He started and coloured. She waved her hand. “It was — nothing of consequence. Just some of my silly ideas. You know how capricious I can be.”

“Yes,” he said doubtfully. “Not very capricious at all. Well, good-night. If you need me, I am just in the next room; you shall want to rest, the Bennets should be here in the morning, something to do with rearranging the furniture.”

“The furniture? Is Miss Bennet that particular?”

Mrs Bennet is that particular.”

“This is Mr Gardiner’s sister?”

“Yes.”

She shook her head with a smile, and kissed her husband’s cheek. “Good-night, Fitzwilliam.”

---

“Mr Bennet — ” He was an eccentric gentleman with sharp, cynical dark eyes — why did she feel he was laughing at her, and not kindly? There was no reason to suppose that he was not perfectly amiable.

“Mrs Bennet — ” The Bennet family matriarch (because there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that it was a matriarchy) was a short, plump woman, with a shrill voice, whose chief occupation seemed to be embarrassing everyone around her. Her manner to Darcy was little short of offensive, and she seemed undecided as whether or not she should extend that dislike to Rosemary —

“Miss Bennet — ” With an automatic smile she turned to the next, Mr Bingley’s fiancé; and was astonished to see a gentle, sensible young woman, quite beautiful, with unassuming, pleasant manners. Rosemary’s smile quickly turned sincere as she greeted the girl with as much warmth as she could muster in company.

“Miss Mary and Miss Catherine — ” The one was plain, affected, and pompous, the other highly-strung, pretty, and insipid, and they seemed incapable of speaking to one another without quarrelling. Rosemary, who had always wanted a sister, decided in that moment that she had not realised her own good fortune.

“Oh!” said Mr Bingley, as yet another Bennet slipped into the room, “there you are, Lizzy.” With a concealed sigh, Rosemary turned to the newcomer. “Your ladyship, this is Miss Elizabeth Bennet. Lizzy, Lady Rosemary Darcy.”

Miss Elizabeth was a small, slight girl, pretty enough but not very striking, with light brown hair, brilliant dark eyes, and a natural vivacity Rosemary could not help but envy. She gazed at Rosemary with clear curiosity, and something else the other could not quite identify; she smiled in response to Rosemary’s polite greeting, and her own was perfectly cordial; but Rosemary thought that she had seen a flash of hostility in the other woman’s eyes, and could not imagine why. It was gone quickly enough, and she assured herself that she must be imagining it. Overexposure to the harpies, no doubt.

“Thank you, Miss Elizabeth,” she said, replying to Miss Elizabeth’s congratulations and rather strained best wishes. Perhaps she knew something of their situation from the Gardiners; that would explain the peculiarity of her manner.

There was no doubt that they were a family. Opinionated and obstinate to the last, whether in defence of balls, Fordyce, or the Wickhams’ prospects (Rosemary’s feathers were rather ruffled at this on her husband’s behalf, but she was not half so badly-off as Miss Elizabeth and Miss Bennet, who exchanged brief anguished expressions before determinedly changing the conversation to a discussion of Jane’s trousseau). Aside from Mrs Bennet, however, they were not half so bad as she had been led to believe. What a snob you are, Stephen, she thought with a smile.

“Your necklace is lovely, Lady Rosemary,” Miss Catherine offered tentatively, as they enjoyed a fine dinner at Netherfield. It had taken little effort on Rosemary's part to discern that the girl was utterly petrified of Darcy, so Rosemary smiled as reassuringly as she could.

“Thank you.” She glanced down and added, “my cousin is very kind.”

Miss Elizabeth, who sat nearby, glanced up sharply. Miss Catherine innocently asked, “Your cousin, ma’am?”

Rosemary realised what she had said and blushed. “Mr Darcy and I are cousins, you know. We have not been married a fortnight, but we have been relations these eight-and-twenty years. I am not quick to adapt to new situations, I’m afraid.” Not to mention the fact that her relationship to Darcy did not seem to have changed the slightest in consequence of their marriage.

“Oh,” Miss Catherine said ingenuously, “I had no idea. You are not alike.”

“No, there is only a little resemblance about the eyes — he favours his mother’s people, the Fitzwilliams. I am like the Deincourts.”

Rosemary kept an eye on Miss Elizabeth, who had by now become quite an enigma despite her openness of manner, as Miss Catherine said shyly, “You are both very handsome, you look very nice together.”

This time there was no doubting the expression on Miss Elizabeth’s face. Rosemary smiled at Miss Catherine, politely said, “Thank you”; and wondered. Why on earth did a woman, a young woman she scarcely knew and had hardly spoken a sentence to, how had this girl come to harbour such a dislike for her? It was puzzling and not a little unsettling.

---

Chapter Four

“I, Charles, take thee, Jane, to my wedded wife . . .”

Rosemary sniffled. She scarcely knew the radiant woman smiling sweetly up at Mr Bingley, but they were charming, handsome, and very much in love. The shy sweet smiles on their faces could not but remind her of her own past, when she and James had become engaged. She had been deliriously happy for those months, very like Miss Bennet, now Mrs Bingley. Rosemary blinked rapidly — she had not cried over James for years — and smiled at her husband. Darcy and Miss Elizabeth were best man and bridesmaid to the newly-married couple, and had performed their services efficiently and amicably.

After a few days Rosemary felt no more sense of belonging than she had at first, despite Mrs Bingley’s kindness. Even Darcy and Georgiana seemed more at ease, and she could not think of why she felt so terribly awkward here. They certainly were not the sort she typically associated with, and yet it was more than that, there’d been no great difficulty with the Gardiners.

Now, Darcy and Bingley were shaking hands, Miss Bennet — Mrs Bingley — and Miss Elizabeth (Miss Bennet!) were embracing each other, both crying. Mrs Bennet was trying very hard to cry, Mr Bennet was trying not to cry, the younger girls were a little bored — all in all, it was a very normal wedding.
The Bingleys were going to Yorkshire, Mr Bingley’s native country, for their honeymoon. Mrs Bingley and Miss Bennet cried some more after the breakfast. “You will write to me, Lizzy?” Mrs Bingley asked anxiously.

“So is Baildon west of Sheffield?” Bingley said to Darcy, who — Rosemary could not keep from smiling in amusement — was suffering a case of nerves to rival Mrs Bennet's. She did not think he would appreciate being informed of his resemblance to a mother hen just then, even if only she could see it. Bingley had expressed a certain eagerness to return to Yorkshire at some point in the future, and Darcy knew of an estate that might fit his needs.

“Yes, of course,” Miss Bennet said, kissing her sister again. “Shall you have time for writing, now that you are a married woman?”

This was apparently some sort of joke between the two of them, for both laughed and kissed each other again.

“No, no, it’s east — for heavens’ sake, Bingley, just ask directions — ”

“What a lovely bride,” Mrs Long said simperingly to Mrs Bennet, who beamed. Overflowing with the milk of human kindness, she was delighted with the world and everyone in it, and complimented everyone from Mrs Goulding to Mr Darcy (the latter of whom looked utterly astonished but graciously extended best wishes for the couple and congratulations on the fine breakfast).

“I hope you will take good care of my friend, Mrs Bingley,” Darcy said, his look rather anxious beneath the polite detachment. Miss Bennet smiled warmly then bit her lip. The two men shook hands one last time, and Mr Bingley turned to his wife and helped her into the carriage. Amid much tears and laughter, the Bingleys set off. As soon as they could with propriety do so, the three Darcys followed suit and left for London.

---

Rosemary was not fond of society and longed for the day when they could leave London. She had little enough to be glad of. The Duke was in town and when separated from her husband, she could not keep herself from jumping at small sounds and looking over her shoulder. Morever after frequent visits to Gracechurch-street she grew more and more dissatisfied with the great contrast between the opulence of their lives and the misery of those they could do nothing for. After snapping at an astonished Georgiana she forced herself to explain, she was not easy here, she could not pretend she was, and from then on either brother or sister remained in perpetual attendance. She felt rather silly until the day she caught the Duke’s eye from across the room. If Darcy had not been there, stepping close to her and placing one hand on her back, she might very well have fainted on the spot.

She had not conceived as a consequence of the Duke’s attack, and the overwhelming relief she felt was a sharp reminder of how great her husband’s charity was. She could not help but confront him, for until she knew she had not, the idea had not entered her mind that she might have.

“You did not, Rosemary,” he said; “that is all that need concern us.”

“But, Fitzwilliam,” she cried, “what if I had? What if I had borne his son?”

Darcy set down his book and sighed. “Mary, I did consider the matter. I had no intentions of keeping it a secret from any of the family. Any child you conceived might as well have been a daughter, and then I would have treated her as my own; if a son, I would have done what I could for him. Pemberley is not entailed. I probably would have left the estates to our child, should such a person come to exist, and persuade — the other —to seek his inclinations, naturally with my support. In every other respect he would have been as my own.”

Rosemary stared. “You thought this through very throroughly, didn’t you?”

“Of course,” he said calmly, “it was a great step to make, for that and — other reasons.”

“Other reasons?” He coloured and looked down. Rosemary frowned. “Why, what oth —” Mary, has love brought either of us any lasting happiness? His voice echoed in her ears and she understood. How funny — in a terrible, dreadful way. It was so inconceivable. Cousin Fitzwilliam — Mr Darcy — oh, whoever he was, that he should suffer the pangs of romantic love? Impossible, surely. And yet not. It explained everything, his quieter, graver demeanour, his detachment and occasional sadness— “I am sorry, so sorry,” she said.

He dropped his eyes. “It is nothing, really.”

She frowned at him. “But — if your heart was attached, how could you? Fitzwilliam, that was wrong — ”

His head jerked up, eyes flashing. “You do not understand,” he said sharply, and she flinched. His voice gentled. “I’m sorry, but I — I do not care to speak of it. Needless to say there was no understanding, no — anything. Nothing at all. It was not us, just I.”

“Oh.” What had he said? Not I, to be sure. And he was afraid of being lonely. Sympathy welled up and she clasped his hand; he looked away. “Do I know her?”

“Yes.” He inhaled deeply. “Rosemary, I would really rather not speak of it — if you don’t mind. It’s better not — to think about it. You know.”

“Yes.” She touched his hand one more time and withdrew, only glancing back once, to see him staring pensively out the window, chin resting on his interlocked fingers.

---

They attended the third wedding in as many months. Rosemary kept a close eye on her husband, who behind his veneer of elegant composure looked positively desolate.

“I, Georgiana, take thee, Stephen, to my wedded husband — ”

She could not help herself and began crying silently. If anyone deserved happiness it was Georgiana, and Lord Westhampton simply adored her. They would be happy, she was certain of it. Georgiana was beautiful, for quite possibly the first time in her life she was not outshone by her brother, and she had grown into the strongly-marked features she shared with him, they were no longer that little bit unbalanced. Dark eyes shining, she kissed her husband enthusiastically. Darcy looked faintly ill.

“Congratulations,” Rosemary said cheerfully, “I hope you are both very happy.” She looked at her cousin and, lowering her voice, added, “She had better be if you wish to keep your head. You are a good man, but she is something special. Take care of her, will you?”

Westhampton laughed softly. “Of course. Thank you for the warning — sister. Is that on your own behalf’s or Darcy’s?”

“Both,” she said, smiling back. “He is — ” Whatever wifely instincts she possessed kicked in at that moment, and she shook her head and said no more. It had struck her that her primary loyalty must be to him, and if their intimacy made his feelings easier for her to perceive, that was no reason to inform others. He would be horrified if he thought himself that transparent. And Georgiana could not bear it if she thought for an instant that she had made her beloved brother unhappy. Of course, he was not unhappy, as such, but there was certainly something —

“Oh, Fitzwilliam!” Georgiana cried, and held her brother tightly, pressing her face into his neck in imitation of her childhood habit. “I love you so much, I don’t know how I shall bear it without you — ” She swallowed and gave up the fight, sobbing softly into his shoulder.

“Oh, hush,” he chided her gently, “you shall be happy, and I am not fifteen miles away.” He did not sound half-convinced himself, and Rosemary could see that not all the tears shed were Georgiana’s. “If you ever want me, Georgiana, you know, you have only to ask, and you are — always welcome — ” His voice caught and he rested his cheek against her dark hair, eyes tightly closed.

“I know,” Georgiana said, still clinging to him. “Fitzwilliam, take care of yourself.”

“I will, I promise. Don’t forget who — ” He drew a deep breath, and detached himself, cupping her face in his hands and kissing her forehead. “Remember who you are, dearest.”

“I will.” She sniffled, and took her husband’s arm. “Goodbye. Oh!” She ran forward, embracing her brother again and raining kisses on his cheek. Darcy laughed unsteadily, wrapped his arms about her tightly.

“You really must go, my love, the horses — ”

“I love you, you know that?” she said earnestly, and he nodded, letting her go, and not daring to speak anymore — except to pleasantly deliver the expected threats to his new brother. After the newlywed couple departed, Rosemary took her husband’s arm and said lightly,

“There is something very bittersweet about weddings, don’t you think?”

---

Chapter Five

Rosemary had not been to Pemberley for years, not since her grandmother’s nephew, George Darcy, was alive. He had been a fine man, very handsome, and she had enjoyed her visits as she had been close to all her Deincourt relatives. She had not been of an age or disposition to pay much mind to the grounds or the house, but now she leaned forward eagerly as they went over the last incline and looked down. Pemberley spread out before them, lit up by the last remnants of sunlight, the woods sprawling out through the valley. It was not at all what she had expected, and seemed subtly different from her memories. There had been follies about, very picturesque and dramatic, that she had played on and about; but they were gone. Also it seemed the woods and stream were rather more prominent than she recalled.

Rosemary glanced at her husband, and smiled. She knew that he loved Pemberley, with characteristic single-mindedness — there were no halves with him. He spoke of it with the same passion that another man might speak of the object of his desire, a beautiful mistress or beloved wife. He stared down, his lips slightly parted and his eyes smiling brilliantly although his expression remained severe. Rosemary turned back to the sight before her, as the carriage rattled on. It was almost too lovely, too — she had no word, too much. It did not seem quite earthly. She had preferred it with the little idiosyncrasies, the follies and statues and all those little touches that had spoken of variance and imperfection. This Pemberley was so perfectly blended between nature and artifice, she could find no flaw, and so beautiful she could almost not bear it. She felt a pale, tired imitation of herself, utterly incapable of managing the overwhelming presence and beauty that was Pemberley. And yet — beautiful and sublime — she was almost transported at the same time, into a sort of peculiar joy and pleasure.

It was all very strange. Rosemary cast her strange mood off, and looked at her husband. He was happier than she had ever seen him. “Welcome home,” he said easily, helping her out of the carriage. Rosemary looked up at the house and swallowed. It was a fine, soaring building, not as grand and splendid as she had expected — as Darcy could afford to make it — and again she felt that blend of awe and anxiety.

“It is lovely, beyond words,” she said sincerely, looking around. There was no great pomp, the servants went about their duties quietly and efficiently, but she could not miss the contentment pervading the place, nor the pleasure lighting up Mrs Reynolds’ face when she set eyes on her master. “She has yet to realise I am no longer four,” Darcy had said ruefully, and that was apparent immediately by the distinctly maternal manner she took with him, fussing over the weather, his clothing, whether or not he had eaten properly — Rosemary could hardly keep from laughing at it, they were so utterly delightful together.

Later that evening, Rosemary said idly, “What happened to the follies?”

Darcy glanced up from his book. He looked very peaceful, no longer as volatile as he had been in London. She missed that, a little. It had reminded her of James. He had been a gentleman as well, of far more recent affluence, of course. His estate had shown the signs of that, the buildings had been modern, there had been eccentric additions and variations;—he had cut down a small stand of trees on a whim. One never knew what would happen next with him. She had always been a steadying influence on him, but Darcy needed no steadying. One need only look at Pemberley to see that. She felt rather melancholy as her husband replied, “I tore them down.”

“Whatever for? Did not your father like them?”

“Yes,” he said, laughing a little, “but I do not feel obliged to agree with my father on every matter. I thought they were rather pretentious, actually.”

“Fitzwilliam!”

“Father did not build them, it was some ancestor five or six generations back,” Darcy said hurriedly. “I would not speak of my father in such a manner, I am certain he would not mind my changing things a little. They were very out of place at Pemberley, fashion without purpose.”

“Yes, I suppose so.” Rosemary did not dare say she felt as out of place in the wild, perfect beauty of Pemberley as one of those dear, whimsical follies, fashionable and purposeless. She shivered. What would James think? She had not thought of him so often for five years at least.

---

She settled into life at Pemberley easily enough, far more easily than she had expected. It was so orderly, she found her ways easily assimilated into the greater way of things at Pemberley. She liked the colour yellow and promptly found her favourite room decorated in that shade, courtesy of Mrs Reynolds (with Darcy as co-conspirator, naturally). They did so much to accomodate her that she was determined to return the favour, to be an exemplary mistress of Pemberley and wife to Darcy, in every possible respect.

They had been at Pemberley two months, living contentedly and peacefully. Rosemary did not see her husband a great deal — she had had no idea he took such a great personal interest in affairs of the estate, but free of the passionate, possessive sort of love that might have placed a greater claim on his time, she did not mind terribly, fond of him as she was. There was much to do, and discover. Morever he was so still and quiet that she often failed to notice him when he was present.

It was particularly embarrassing when she happened across a fine painting of a darkly handsome woman with a small boy on her lap. He was a startlingly beautiful child, and the painter had been very talented, catching even the smallest details, the nervous grasp of the boy’s small fingers on his mother’s dress, the slightly haughty tilt of her chin. “A Madonna?” Rosemary said aloud, and was startled by a sudden laugh. She stifled a shriek and glanced over her shoulder.

“Oh, Fitzwilliam,” she said in relief, “it’s only you.”

“Yes,” he said, with a crooked smile, “only I. I beg your pardon, I should not have laughed.”

Rosemary turned back to the painting, caught by the little boy’s intense dark blue eyes as he stared out of the frame. She shivered a little. “It is a lovely painting,” she remarked. “A mother and son, I am certain. Why should it not be a Madonna?”

“Well,” he said, biting down on his lip, “because it is my mother and I.”

“Oh!” She blushed fiercely, and looked more carefully at it. Yes, she had seen that detached, introspective expression on her husband’s face often enough; and the woman looked a great deal like him. She had thought, perhaps, that the model for it was a relation of some sort, certainly with those dark good looks one of the Fitzwilliam clan. “Rather presumptious of me, then.”

“You did not know, it is quite all right.” He looked intently at her. Rosemary sighed, thinking that it was difficult enough to be watched by one Darcy, three was rather excessive. “Are you quite well, my dear?”

She started and glanced up. “Of course,” she said instantly. “Why did you think not?”

“You have been ill every morning this week, and yesterday you fainted in the middle of the day.”

“Oh, I think that I must have eaten something that disagreed with me. Do you remember that dinner at Lady Meredith’s? I remember thinking that the partridges were done very ill.”

“There were no partridges, Rosemary,” he said gently.

“Oh, well, whatever it was then, I don’t recall.” Her gaze was irresistibly drawn to the painting once more. “Is that the only picture you have of Lady Anne?”

“My uncle has the others.”

Rosemary glanced up at the wall. Another dark, strikingly handsome lady looked down. “Who is this? She looks rather like.”

“My grandmother, Lady Alexandra. Her mother was a Fitzwilliam.”

“Oh, I had thought Lady Alexandra was the fair-haired one in Georgiana’s room.”

“That is my great-grandmother, for whom she and my father were named.”

“Oh, I see.” She glanced down at the letter in his hand. “Is there something you wish to speak to me about?”

“Ah, nothing in particular.” He smiled uncertainly and took his leave of her. The next day, as her maid was dressing her, the girl tentatively asked,

“Your ladyship, have you noticed . . .?” She gestured at the stays, which had in the last few weeks grown quite uncomfortable.

“Have I noticed what, Amelia?”

“You are — you have — you are not quite so slender, my lady, as when you first came.”

Rosemary laughed at this. “Too many dinner parties, I’m afraid. I shall have to take greater care.”

The French girl actually stamped her foot and muttered something too rapid for Rosemary to catch.

“I beg your pardon?”

“The English are very silly,” Amélie pronounced, and pulled the stays tighter with a vengeful jerk. Rosemary squeaked.

---

“Perhaps I should speak to Mrs Reynolds,” said Rosemary.

“Oh, what about?” Darcy cut his meat neatly into small squares. She watched with some interest. Every day at every dinner he cut his food in exactly the same way. He was without a doubt a creature of habit.

“I have been ill again, surely not all the food I’ve eaten at other people’s houses can be bad. It must be our own.”

“Ah — ” said Darcy quickly, “Perhaps it isn’t the food and you are ill? You could tell her your, er, symptoms, and she might be able to help. She has a great deal of, er, practical experience with this sort of thing.”

Rosemary sighed. “You are probably right. If it isn’t the food, I wouldn’t want to offend her.”

“Indeed not.” With a distinctly relieved expression, he applied himself to his food once more.

“I am sorry I am such terrible company, Fitzwilliam. I do not care for being ill.”

He bit his lip down, but she thought she caught the hint of a dimple in his cheek, and she gave him a sharp look. “It must be dreadful,” he said hastily. “I remember when mother — well, Mrs Reynolds can tell you about that.”

“About what?” She looked at him curiously, and he shook his head.

“She would know more about it than I, really. Tell her about everything, she is very sensible.” His face was now very composed, but she knew him well enough to recognise what he had once ruefully called his “Lady Catherine grimace.” It was his usual way when he did not dare show his true feelings. He was acting very strangely these days, almost giddy. Most unlike himself. Perhaps he was not well either?

---

Chapter Six

February 1813

Rosemary stared at the housekeeper, one hand automatically flying to her stomach. “That is impossible!” she cried.

Mrs Reynolds looked vastly amused. “Apparently not, your ladyship.”

“Surely it’s too soon?” She sat down heavily, struggling to comprehend it all.

“You have been married over four months, your ladyship,” Mrs Reynolds said, glancing away. “It is quite normal.”

“But we didn’t — ” Rosemary turned scarlet and looked down awkwardly. Were their circumstances different, she might have called the other woman a friend. But she was Lady Rosemary Darcy, the lady of the house, and Mrs Reynolds was the spinster housekeeper. It would be vastly improper to mention what went on behind closed doors, certainly. Rosemary blushed again and again. At nine-and-twenty she was hardly a innocent young girl, she understood what men were like. For all his austerity she had believed Darcy would be the same. So, when she deemed herself ready to approach her husband, she had not the slightest idea that it would take hoursof rational persuasion and a great deal of wine to convince him. Such occasions remained very rare and very awkward, as he was no more attracted to her than he was to a Gainsborough painting.

She thought back. If she was about six weeks along, as Mrs Reynolds speculated, it must be — oh, yes. So it had been long enough, just barely. “Oh, I see,” she said, still flushed. “I should tell Mr Darcy.”

“Ah,” said Mrs Reynolds, colouring slightly, “I believe — it is very highly probable, ma’am — he probably knows already.”

Rosemary started. “How would he know? Did Amelia — ”

“Lady Anne conceived seven times between Mr Darcy and Miss Georgiana,” Mrs Reynolds said delicately. “He saw the signs often enough.”

Rosemary remembered his repeated questions, which at the time had only rather irritated her, and blushed yet again. “Oh, I see.” She frowned. “Why did he not tell me?” she wondered aloud, and Mrs Reynolds cleared her throat.

“I believe he thought, your ladyship, that the, er, announcement, was your prerogative.”

Rosemary gave her a sharp look. She had no doubt but that Darcy had confided in his housekeeper — he did not maintain distinctions quite as he ought. “I see,” she said.

---

The months of Rosemary’s pregnancy passed without incident. She felt she looked ridiculous — she had always been a slender, ethereal woman, and remained so but for her protruding belly — and for the first half of the time was more temperamental than she had ever been in her life. Darcy prudently spent most of his time on the estate or locked in the library after she lashed out at him several times too many. (Fond as he was of her, he was not about to let her dictate the manner in which he carved his meat. Nor — though he did not consider himself a vain man — did he let her near him with her scissors when she declared his hair too long.) Then she became unnervingly serene. Darcy ventured out of the library, and the servants regained their customary good cheer, which somehow no longer seemed quite so grating. (Why must everyone here be so cheerful all — the — time? she demanded of no-one in particular on one of her more unpleasant mornings.)

Georgiana, who had conceived a month earlier than Rosemary (to her brother’s mixed joy and fear), was a great comfort, writing long and witty letters about the horrors of her own confinement and how much she looked forward to being a mother. Her son was born in September and christened Stephen Darcy George Deincourt. Rosemary privately thought it a rather unwieldy name for such a small creature, but of course he was only ever called “Stephen.” Within a few weeks he was a lovely, charming little boy (and, according to his uncle and the family portraits, the very image of his mother at the same age). It was October, three weeks past when Rosemary had been assured the time would come, when her water broke and she stared blankly at the floor.

The labour, considering the mother’s slight build and the baby’s size, was not terribly difficult. It was only five hours before Anne Rosemary Darcy entered the world, and the exhausted Rosemary received her daughter in her arms. She was very like other babies, loud and red, with a full array of toes and fingers. Soft, downy black hair covered her head, and Rosemary laughed in weary delight as Anne began suckling on her breast.

Anne had fallen asleep when the midwife remembered Darcy, still pacing outside. Rosemary could just hear her say, “Mr Darcy, you have a daughter” before he dashed into the room and stood quite still, staring wordlessly at her. The midwife gently put Anne in his arms, and he automatically adjusted his stance slightly to hold her head up. The midwife smiled and said, “I see you have done this before, sir.” Darcy ignored her and gazed down in utter fascination at his daughter.

“She looks like you,” Rosemary said sleepily. Another man might have done the expected and protested; not so he. Darcy reverently brushed one finger over the fine black hair and laughed softly.

“Yes, she does.”

---

Chapter Seven

Rosemary was tired and dispirited for weeks after Anne’s birth. She could not explain it, now that the greatest trial of her confinement was past; but she constantly struggled for composure and her old even-temperedness. Anne’s crying wore on her nerves more quickly than anything else in that time, and with her exhaustion she slept more than ever before. She could not rest without knowing that Anne was taken care of, but soon all fears were put to rest. The wet-nurse was an almost unbearably efficient woman who could be relied upon to feed Anne with clocklike regularity; for the rest of the time, Anne followed her mother’s lead and slept.

It was only about six weeks after Anne’s birth that Rosemary began to recover her spirits. Starting out of her exhausted, depressed stupor, she collected herself and went looking for her husband. He was not in the study, so she made her way to the library — and stopped in the doorway. She could not keep from smiling, charmed at the scene in front of her; Darcy sat on one of the sofas, a battered book in one hand, Anne peacefully sleeping in the other arm. Rosemary could not bear to interrupt and so waited until she heard voices. She peeked in and laughed herself, to see father and daughter examining one another with identically grave expressions, Anne smiling and giggling as she tugged at Darcy’s hair.

She discovered that Darcy, quite contrary to his usual habits, had abandoned estate affairs for sometimes hours at a time, instead devoting himself to his daughter’s amusement. Anne seemed endlessly fascinated by him, running her small hands over his face and then over her own, frowning in bemused concentration. She did not care to be taken from him, even for meals, and would scream vociferously when forced to do so. Rosemary grew closer to her daughter, one of the few people Anne recognised and smiled at, but she could not be surprised that Anne seemed to prefer her father to all others. From his treatment of Georgiana she had known that Darcy would be a dedicated parent, although naturally she had underestimated his capacity for devotion. She could not help feeling a little excluded, although it was her own fault for indulging herself so after Anne’s birth.

The duo of tiny Anne and towering Darcy gladly welcomed her into their little circle once she recovered her strength. Anne adored both her parents, who could not keep from reciprocating the sentiment (even as they admired her fine set of lungs). “Were you this loud?” Rosemary inquired, wincing.

“No,” said Darcy, “I was too ill.”

“Oh — ” Rosemary blushed — “I had forgotten.” He was so healthy that she forgot he, too, had not been expected to live. Mr Darcy and Lady Anne had only produced one really healthy child — Georgiana — among the fourteen conceived.

In December, the Bingleys extended an invitation to come to Netherfield. All three, the couple and their son Charles, had been at Pemberley for Anne’s christening, as Bingley was god-father, and exclaimed over Anne just as they ought. (“The spitting image of you, Darcy,” remarked Bingley. “She’ll be a right terror once she grows old enough, won’t she?”) But Darcy could not help but decline, citing Rosemary’s poor health. The birth had been easy, comparatively speaking, but she was slow to recover her health; her constitution had never been good.

There were a thousand fragments of moments that Christmas, that stayed in her memory for the rest of her life. Darcy reading to Anne in Latin and Greek. Georgiana rushing in two days before expected to see her brother, both siblings embracing each other tightly and exclaiming over one another’s increased beauty and delightful offspring. Darcy ‘accidentally’ paying a Lambton shopkeeper over four times the cost of his purchases with a pleasant if reserved, “Happy Christmas, sir.” Convincing her husband to attend the Cartwrights’ ball, and waltzing the evening away in his arms. The enthusiastic welcome of the Fitzwilliam clan when they travelled north to Houghton, listening to Darcy passionately tax his uncle with the conditions in Sheffield and Leeds. Pride, pride in husband and daughter, family, even Pemberley, warmed her that season.

She could hear Darcy reading out loud to Anne as she walked down the hall, a letter and newspaper clipping in her hand. “. . . and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” The clipping was from the obituaries, an announcement that the Duke of Albini had died three weeks prior. Rosemary smiled, suppressing her delighted vengeful feelings, and walked in the library, raising her eyebrow at the pair.

“Isn’t she rather young for Isaiah, Fitzwilliam?”

Anne was staring at her father raptly; as his voice ceased, her face screwed up.

“Nonsense,” said Darcy, and as Anne prepared to scream in protest, he hastily turned a few pages, continuing, “Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee . . .”

Rosemary shook her head and kissed Anne’s head and Darcy’s cheek before retiring.

---

Chapter Eight

The next few months passed peacefully. The rash of births, weddings, and courtships meant that the Darcys were no longer able to spend so much of their time at Pemberley. Colonel Fitzwilliam married an admiral’s vivacious niece, Miss Crawford. Despite her undoubted charm, Rosemary could not like her. Mrs Fitzwilliam, while quite fond of her husband, seemed equally fond of the other three Fitzwilliam cousins. It apparently did not signify that two were married and the third engaged. Her flirtations might very well have extended to her other brother-in-law if Ella were not quite so incalculable. Even Mrs Fitzwilliam did not dare rouse her sister’s fury. She restrained her attentions to Lord Allington, Mr Fitzwilliam, and Mr Darcy. Rosemary seethed quietly and could not bring herself to care greatly that she deeply offended the colonel and his wife when she unceremoniously snatched her daughter out of Mrs Fitzwilliam’s arms.

She discovered a well-preserved antique book that Darcy had been looking for since before their marriage, and purchased it on the spot, caring nothing for the extortionate sum the shopkeeper demanded. She had thought of simply giving it to him on the spot, but as it was February, she hid it among the comportment manuals inherited from her mother, and shyly presented it to him for his thirtieth birthday. He was delighted beyond words and impulsively laughed and whirled her around. She never saw him so happy until one day about six months later.

Darcy was busily attending to some letters and could not entertain his daughter, who protested energetically. It took all of Rosemary’s strength simply to hold her back, as she would instantly crawl over to his desk if left to herself. Finally, Anne capitulated and began sobbing softly into her mother’s shoulder. Rosemary and Darcy looked at one another ruefully. Anne sniffed, rubbed her nose, and held out her arms to her father. “Pa-pa,” she said plaintively. Chaos ensued; Darcy’s face lit up and he rewarded Anne by taking her into his arms and holding her high above the ground, much to her delight. She laughed and laughed. Rosemary burst into happy tears. Mrs Reynolds came by to see what the matter was and stopped, sniffling, despite her advanced years quite unable to miss Anne’s happy chant of “Papa, papa, papa.”

Anne picked up new words quickly. After “papa” came “ma-ma,” “Old” (Mrs Reynolds), “Nana” (Georgiana), and “Ing” (Mr Bingley). Within a few months she had acquired a rudimentary vocabulary, and promptly began stringing it all together. She understood more than she spoke, and as much as she could stayed as close to her father as a small persistent shadow. She incessantly asked him, “But papa, why?” Rosemary would have been perfectly happy to take her away, teach her that her father was not to be disturbed in his study and she must discipline herself; but Darcy would not stand for it. “She is just a child, Mary; there will be time for that later,” he declared, and Rosemary, who once again found herself growing tired at odd moments, easily acceded. For every why there was an answer, which Rosemary at first believed Anne, at not yet two years old, could not possibly understand. But she did and only asked more questions. “This is what comes of reading Euclid to a little girl,” she told Darcy, but he only smiled with an expression positively whimsical and shrugged his shoulders.

Then they went to Kent, for another Fitzwilliam marriage — this time the Earl’s nephew Henry Fitzwilliam. He was a promising young barrister, by his own account neither pious enough for the Church nor courageous enough for the military. He bore a striking resemblance to her husband; Mr Fitzwilliam’s eyes were warmer and darker, and he stood two or three inches shorter than his younger cousin, but at a distance even the eagle-eyed Lady Catherine could not tell them apart.

Lady Catherine was the only member of the family not pleased at Darcy’s marriage. She had always intended him for her sickly daughter Anne, who was now so frail that she could not walk and spent most of her time asleep. She was, however, somewhat mollified by Rosemary’s fortune and her connection to his family. She was even more mollified by the rapid production of her first great-niece, named in honour of her beloved sister. With no possibility of grandchildren Lady Catherine’s great-nieces and -nephews were her only chance to dictate how to raise children, and the opportunity was not to be passed up.

“Anne is certainly a very talkative child,” she announced critically. “I have not heard so many questions since you were her age, Darcy. It is quite singular for a girl, she may well become too clever.”

“Surely one cannot be too clever, aunt,” he replied. Rosemary bit her lips to hide a smile and looked down. The food was fine and very well-done, but she felt rather faint and could scarcely swallow. Everything was far more blurry than she recalled, and at one point she nearly spilt her wine. She did not dare touch it after that and played with her food while Lady Catherine droned on.

“She is your heir, of course?”

“Yes, ma’am. You know that Pemberley is not entailed.”

Lady Catherine made a noise of approval. “Excellent. With your combined fortunes — ” she favoured Rosemary with an approving look — “I daresay it shall not greatly signify how eccentric she is. Any man will be quite fortunate to have her.”

Darcy smiled. “I flatter myself, my dear aunt, that we are in complete agreement on that point.”

---

Rosemary had never thought to be so glad to return to Pemberley, even if she could not clearly make out the beauty she had learnt to love. She had no idea what was wrong. She would have thought she had conceived again were it possible. She nearly fell down the staircase one morning; as she swayed, eyes drifting shut, Darcy happened across her and caught her, forcefully taking her to Georgiana’s parlour and sitting her down. From who-knew-where he procured smelling salts, the pungent odour bringing her sharply to, and demanded to know how long she had been ill. She did not know — it had come on so slowly — at first she had simply been a little dizzy at times, but that was normal — and she thought it because she had lost her appetite. When, he asked, when was this; and could only stare in horror when she reluctantly confessed that it predated their marriage by several years. It was nothing, simply a poor constitution, she insisted. Darcy without further ado sent for two doctors, one the apothecary from Lambton and the other a respected London physician.

“Mr Darcy, Lady Rosemary . . .” Their prognoses were identical, and it only took the couple a moment to interpret the apothecary’s strained, nervous features. Rosemary gasped, the world spun about, and Darcy held her upright, utterly still. Perhaps she borrowed something of his calm then — she never said. But a serenity descended upon her in that moment which even she wondered at occasionally.

The next two months were some of the happiest she had ever lived. She spent more time with Anne, who, naturally affectionate, entertained herself by pressing exuberant kisses over her mother’s face. She talked with Darcy — not as she had always done, simply making conversation, but for a purpose, with real depth and intensity. He was her greatest comfort then, for those were what he could speak of, the things that others veered away from or did not dare approach.

One day she looked at him — by now he was little more than a blur to her eyes — and said quietly, “You will be free, soon.”

“Mary, you cannot believe —”

“No, no — but listen to me for a moment. And do not interrupt! I do not wish to be forgotten. No-one does.” She laughed lightly. “You shan’t forget, my dear, you never do. But Fitzwilliam — you are an excellent man. I am certain I do not know a better. No, let me finish. You have been a good husband, better than I expected. But this is enough.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Enough martyrdom, Fitzwilliam.” She laid her hand, nearly transparent now, over his. “There is more to life, even your life, than duty and honour and obligation. I know you. You will devote yourself to Anne and withdraw into your little bit of paradise. Duty always comes first with you. But do not forget all those who care for you, Mr Bingley and Georgiana and even Lady Catherine, in your adherence to it.” She stopped, and laughed self-consciously. “I sound terribly hackneyed and dramatic, but I have not your gift for words. Just — somewhere, Fitzwilliam, there is a young lady, who, I think, you love very much. Do not apologise! You made certain I knew before our marriage. There are no half-measures with you. You did not think she cared for you, but what if you were wrong? Do not make the same mistake.”

He clasped his fingers tightly around hers. “It was not a mistake, Mary.”

“If she cared for you, as you did for her, as you still do, I cannot comprehend what she must have suffered. At least I had the comfort of knowing my love would have chosen me, did choose me. Perhaps it was not a mistake, marrying me, but I feel for that young woman. I think that she did love you — at least she did when you returned to Netherfield with a wife. She had no very cordial feelings for me, I’m afraid.”

She could hear his sharply-indrawn breath, and smiled peacefully. “It was very obvious, I’m afraid, in retrospect. I will admit to being hopelessly blind at the time, so caught up in my own concerns that I could not see what was immediately before my face. I could not understand why she so disliked me, until I had so much time with my own thoughts. I had not the smallest idea that she was the one. She was so very unsuitable, you know, it never even entered my thoughts.”

His fingers tightened unconsciously around her cold ones. “Mary, I’m sorry. I tried — ”

“Yes, I know.” She tried to look him directly in the eyes. “Don’t run away again, Fitzwilliam. I want you to be happy when I am gone.”

He bent his head. “I shall.”

“But don’t forget me,” she added, with sudden fierce anxiety. “I don’t wish to be forgotten, either.” She laughed suddenly. “Remember little Amelia Gardiner? Rosemary for remembrance.”

“I shan’t forget you, Rosemary.”

---

Lady Rosemary Darcy died on a chilly morning in August. Georgiana had stayed with her sister during the last days of her illness, and remained to comfort her brother and niece. Anne could not understand and cried piteously for her mother, comforted only by her father’s arms and voice. The Fitzwilliams came along with Mr and Mrs Bingley, the latter’s kindness and serenity never more welcomed than at this time.

On Anne’s second birthday, Darcy bundled her up and took her to see her mother’s grave, handing her a sprig of rosemary and carefully explaining why mamma was no longer with them. Anne listened and placed the sprig on Rosemary’s grave. “For ’memrance,” she said tearfully. “Aunt Nana says.”

“Yes,” he said, “yes, it is.” He lifted her up with a sigh and pressed his cheek against her dark hair.

“We go in,” said Anne, her voice muffled by his cravat. “It’s cold.”

---

End of Part I

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