Continuing Tales

Inevitable Change

A Pride & Prejudice Story
by acuppajava

Part 21 of 21

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Inevitable Change

Pemberley. Five years later, Christmas Eve.

A fresh snow had covered the grounds in and about the gardens, and Elizabeth was trying her best to keep up with little Carolina, who was pulling Fitzwilliam Bennet Darcy on a sled. The little boy was laughing gleefully, as was Carolina, so that Elizabeth could not help but laugh as well. She called to the children to slow down so that she could catch them, but she knew in her advanced state of expectation, there was little hope of that. Ashwini, ever present at her side, took over the duty of sled-chaser, and Elizabeth made her way back up to the house.

In a playful mood, she sidled along the back edge, toward the servant entrance finding the window of her husband's private study. She smiled mischievously when she discovered he was seated at the desk there, absorbed in reading his correspondence. She squatted as delicately as possible in her condition and gathered a large handful of snow, shaped it into a ball, and pitched it directly at the window. Darcy's startled reaction to the disturbance made her laugh even more, and when he saw the source of the offending missile, doubled over in mirth just outside the study, he grinned then ran out of the room. Elizabeth knew instantly that he must be running pell mell down the servants' hall to get to the rear door and to capture her, so she hiked up her skirts and began to sprint (or rather lope) through the drifts to a safe hiding spot.

It was no use, for his long legs propelled him to her in an instant, and he crushed her to him playfully. "Gotcha!" he growled, and she began wriggling in his arms as he tickled her as punishment. Her giggling protests only got her more of the same treatment until she begged him to stop for the sake of their unborn baby. "Surely this abuse will bring on a sudden labor, William, for heaven's sake, STOP TICKLING ME!" He did, but would not release her until he had kissed her properly, and smoothed his hands down her back and waist. Hypnotized by the sensation he stirred in her, it was all she could do to break away. "Mr. Darcy…you improperly clothed for the weather," she murmured, for he had departed the house without gloves, coat or hat. "You shall catch a chill."

"Not if I rely on you for warmth," and he kissed her again and nibbled on her neck lightly. "Or, we could both go inside, and become improperly clothed for the middle of the day." She sighed at the suggestion, for there was nothing she would rather do than sneak off to his bedroom to make love him him all afternoon. But, the house was in deep preparation for the arrival of their Christmas guests, and Elizabeth was resigned to attend to the finishing details.

With one more light kiss, she arched her brow and stated, "I never do anything improperly, you should know that, William." She stepped away from him, back to the house and turned to say, "I am a portrait of refinement, a model of fastidiousness, the essence of grace and…" and then she misstepped and fell with a plop into the snow. Darcy, in a panic, rushed to her aid, but saw she was unhurt. She sat sprawled on the ground, laughing merrily at her own folly.

"I insist I accompany you indoors, madam, before your refinement makes a spectacle of you," he commented with a grin. Pulling her up with some effort, he escorted her up to their sitting room and personally commandeered the removal of her wet clothing in exchange for dry. There was some removal of his clothing as well in the process, and some lingering in the bed linens (since he returned home from India with Miss Elizabeth, the housemaids were frequently called upon to remake the master's bed, sometimes several times a day) but within an hour, all was made right, and the couple made their way to their front parlor in anticipation of their guests.

Years earlier, their arrival back in England had been as difficult an adjustment as they had predicted. As newlyweds, and with Darcy's one year old daughter in tow, and a small entourage of Indian servants to integrate into the Darcy staff, both Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam had much to manage, and took little notice the paucity of engagements on their social calendar.

Their first public appearance as a married couple was made at Robert and Georgiana's wedding in Derbyshire, where all manners of Fitzwilliams and Darcys and Matlocks had gathered for the occasion. The fierceness of Darcy's love for her had strengthened Elizabeth, and she did not quiver under the whispers and stares of her newest relatives. Even Lady Catherine de Bourgh's venomous stare would not raise her ire.

Indeed, most of the wedding guests' comments were less about her obscure background, and more about the haste in which widower Darcy had remarried. Stories circulated about how Caroline Darcy had really died - of disease, of poison – even of suicide. These tales did not bother Darcy except for their sheer ignorance. But the questions of Elizabeth's virtue enraged him deeply. "How dare they cast dispersions on your character – they judge you because of your youngest sister's lack of moral sense! They think you – seduced me into marrying you! They are fiends for thinking so." He glared about the room, clutching a glass of port. "Half of the men here are bedding mistresses, and these so-called ladies of the ton gave their virtue away to the highest bidder that would take them."

Elizabeth placed a calming arm on his sleeve, and looked up at him sweetly. "I love you Fitzwilliam Darcy, and that is all." It had become her mantra, and his as well, as they had made the long voyage back home to England. Their return journey had been filled with danger and peril on the seas – at one point, their ship had nearly capsized in a vicious squall. All the while, they looked to each other for courage, and it was their love that proved to be their compass guiding them home. Now, their love would navigate them through the rough waters of societal disapproval. They retreated to Pemberley, biding their time for the danger to pass.

Elizabeth had more concern about Mr. Bingley's opinion of her and her marriage to his friend Darcy. Elizabeth had grave concerns that the riff between her husband and his best friends would never be mended, and perhaps she and her most beloved sister would be unable to visit one another because of it. Then, Elizabeth finally received correspondence from Jane, relating how Bingley, upon learning of his sister's death, had retired to his rooms for three days, partaking in nothing but port and wine. He finally emerged on the fourth day, face drawn and eyes red from tears and overindulgence, stubble covering his chin and cheek and he sought out Jane's comfort. "At that point, he made to me a most startling confession. He admitted to me that he forced Mr. Darcy to marry Caroline – all in an attempt to secure my position in society. I did not understand it at first – I still do not – but I was very angry at him when he told me. I scolded him for interfering with a man's life with such disregard for his wants and needs, especially as I had suspected all along that Mr. Darcy had a fondness for you, my dear sister. And I was right! For now you are Mrs. Darcy, and poor Caroline Bingley has received her reward in heaven. And that, of course, was what tortured my dear Charles the most – if he had not interfered, if he had not insisted upon this ill-fated wedding of Caroline to Mr. Darcy, perhaps Caroline would not have lost her life so prematurely, and in such a tragic way!"

Jane continued in her letter to explain she had seen the weight of his poor decisions hanging about him like a chain, and she found it in her heart to forgive him for his sake, and hoped that Darcy would be able to as well. Jane felt that the guilt Bingley felt regarding his sister's demise was his true punishment, and she prayed that the pain he experienced would abate in time, for time was the great healer of all wrongs.

Time did indeed move forward, and it was not long before Bingley and Darcy would meet and come to terms with what had passed between them. The two friends had seen the errors they had made, Bingley in his pressuring Darcy into a false marriage, and Darcy's careless treatment of Caroline. Darcy asked Bingley's permission to hold a small memorial service in Caroline's honor, to include the installment of her name on the Darcy family mausoleum. The Hursts were invited to attend as well.

At Bingley and Jane's visit to Pemberley, much was made of little Carolina, who delighted the guests by singing pretty little nonsense songs while accompanied by Elizabeth on the pianoforte. Bingley could not get over seeing the delicate features of his sister blended with the dark unruly Darcy hair on the little creature. "I'm an uncle, Darcy! I've always wanted to be an uncle!" Bingley beamed as he bounced Carolina upon his knee, as she squealed in delight.

The arrival of Elizabeth's first baby was another reason for celebration. The Darcy's made the occasion of Fitzwilliam Bennet's christening a small affair, inviting only the Bingleys and Fitzwilliams and Elizabeth's mother and remaining sisters to the church and luncheon. Georgiana and Jane were in various stages of pregnancy, but their hearts glowed with happiness for Elizabeth and her little cherub. Carolina's head was held high in the church, as now she was officially the "big" sister. Darcy felt humbled and blessed as he held the boy infant in his hands, with his lovely Elizabeth by his side.

Time turned again, and the Darcys realized they had not returned to London for a full season in two entire years. With the Fitzwilliams' encouragement, they moved their small family into the Darcy townhouse to be caught up in a series of outings to Kensington Park and the theatres and shops on High St. With the Bingleys and Fitzwilliams at their side, more invitations trickled in this year, and of course they visited the Gardiners on Gracechurch Street several times.

It seemed as though the earlier scandalous talk about Elizabeth and Darcy had died out after all; instead, there were some new tales about Elizabeth's new found fortunes discovered in India. Some said she'd established a ruby mine, and some said she'd invested in a tea plantation. A few knew the truth – the bit of money that had been allocated to her by the captain had been put to good use, helping to develop steam train lines and roads across India and the continent.

A small fortune had built up over a short amount of time, and with Darcy's approval, Elizabeth reinvested the dividends in not only the railway, but also in Captain Danbury's spice crops, and a small amount was reserved to establish a school for the village children she had called upon during her time in India. She approached her sister Mary to act as headmistress to the school; Elizabeth observed that her sister had long since shed her over righteous bearing since her father's death, and seemed suited for school teaching. Mary heartily accepted the offer, as she had a yen to travel the world she'd read about so often in the books she'd picked up while nannying at Hunsford and while visiting Rosings.

And so now it was Christmastide at Pemberley again, and the Darcys – Elizabeth, William, Carolina and little Fitzwilliam, all gathered in the parlor to greet their first guest of the celebration – Lady Catherine DeBourgh.

When they had returned to the country, Elizabeth had begun an active and secret correspondence with Lady Catherine's daughter, Anne; she felt a desire to thank Anne for her wise investment advice, and to also acknowledge what Anne already knew – that Elizabeth was indeed in love with her cousin Darcy, and that they had been happily married overseas. Thus, the two women began writing one another, without Lady Catherine learning of it.

Anne, in time, had grown quite ill, and eventually was bedridden. As her health began to fade, she began her campaign to bridge the widened gap between the Darcys and DeBourghs before it was too late. She appealed to her mother to accept Elizabeth as Darcy's wife, and to welcome her and the children into the family properly, to invite them all to Rosings. Upon making this request, Anne suddenly and quite tragically died of the consumption.

At his cousin Anne's funeral, Darcy was stunned by a most unusual request by Lady Catherine. "Fitzwilliam, I have it in my mind to invite you and your bride to Rosings this spring, if it should please you. I have neglected my duties as your aunt long enough, and I wish to make up for the lapse."

It was the most well-mannered request he had ever heard from the woman, and he was so thrown by the statement, he agreed immediately. That spring, the Darcys made the trip to Kent, along with Ashwini and the children. While still imperious in her attitude, Lady Catherine looked at little Carolina and Fitzwilliam with a softness in her eyes. She offered them sweets and bid her man to fetch kites for them so they could run and play in the gardens. Darcy and Elizabeth were amazed at the change in the old lady, and while she would still cast a scrutinizing eye upon her niece, she generally silenced her usual criticisms abruptly.

Time had healed much, and Elizabeth and William were glad of it. With happy hearts, they awaited their holiday visitors – Lady Catherine would arrive first, followed by Bingley and Jane and their little Bethie, and of course Georgiana and Robert with their twin boys, Bill and Lewis. Kitty and Mrs. Bennet would make the journey from Meryton, as well, and the Gardiners would join them after the holidays, to assist in the arrival of the newest Darcy baby.

Darcy was pleased that Pemberley would be filled with guests, and looked forward to the many, many Christmases to come. As Lady DeBourgh's carriage was announced, William squeezed his wife's rounded waist, and turned her head to kiss her lingeringly. "I love you Mrs. Elizabeth Darcy and that is all." And it was enough.

Inevitable Change

A Pride & Prejudice Story
by acuppajava

Part 21 of 21

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