Posted on 2015-09-19
Fitzwilliam Darcy, all of seven years and two months old, was carefully arranging his miniature knights, squires, and archers in formation for their coming victory over the French when a dog's loud barking drew him away to the window.
There on his lawn, playing with one of Pemberley's spaniels, was a boy! The boy looked to be about his own size, clothed, as Fitzwilliam was, in trousers and short jacket, and his straight smooth hair shone in the sunlight like a golden cap.
The boy was not dressed like - nor had he the air of - one of their farmer's sons or a son of a merchant delivering goods to Pemberley. Fitzwilliam's heartbeat gained speed, for it was not often that possible suitable playmates appeared. A boy on his lawn at Pemberley! He could not move his eyes from the sight.
Someone must have called out to the flaxen-haired boy, because he looked aside and then ran out of Fitzwilliam's view, breaking the spell. He returned to his solitary play on the nursery floor battlefield.
When the game was done, he set to putting the figures away in their box, for he was a dutiful sort of young lad. Though he interrupted the task several times to peer hopefully out the window, there was no sign again of the boy and he wondered if he had imagined it all.
It was no imaginary person, however, that a footman brought into the nursery a short time later. The servant looked to the nursery maid, who sat to one side hard at work sewing a nightshirt, and announced, "The steward's family arrived today and Mr. Darcy wishes the new steward's son to come and meet and play with the young master."
He was here - the boy from the lawn! After the maid nodded in understanding, the footman turned to Fitzwilliam, bowed, and said before leaving, "This is George Wickham, sir"
Fitzwilliam had met Mr. Wickham. Two weeks before, he had been in the nursery after eating his supper there when he was summoned to his father in one of the ground floor sitting rooms. He entered and, as he had been taught, bowed to his father, saying, "Good day, Papa."
Mr. Darcy smiled and gestured towards the other person in the room, a man Fitzwilliam had never seen before. The man, almost as tall as Mr. Darcy and near his age or a few years older, looked friendly and good-tempered.
"Ah, Fitzwilliam. Thank you for obeying so promptly. I wish to introduce Mr. Wickham to you. He has agreed to come from London to be our steward and help us look after Pemberley."
Fitzwilliam and Mr. Wickham exchanged bows while the boy politely said, "How do you do? I am happy to meet you." Mr. Darcy's beam of pleasure at his son's excellent manners warmed Fitzwilliam's heart.
"Thank you again, Fitzwilliam, for coming down. We are about to go in to dine, so I shall wish you good night and sleep well," Mr. Darcy said while walking his son to the door.
Upon the spur of the moment Fitzwilliam turned towards Mr. Wickham and said, "Thank you for helping us look after Pemberley."
His father leaned down to kiss his cheek and whispered with pride, "That was very well done, son!"
Two boys stood facing one another, silent for a moment, one in near disbelief that the boy was really here and meant to be his playmate, the other smiling widely and seeming filled with merriment and energy that could not be repressed.
"My name is George. Who are you? Everyone says 'the young master'. What is that? What does it mean?"
Fitzwilliam hardly knew how to answer. He was not sure exactly what it meant himself, so he merely shrugged and said, "My name is Fitzwilliam."
"I am six years old and very strong and run very fast!"
"I am sev--"
"I am going to live at Pemberley now. I used to live in London. London is the grandest city in the whole world. Have you seen it? I saw The King's crown with my own eyes."
"I saw it too, in the Tower of--"
"I like Pemberley. There are many good things--many dogs and many horses--there is a pond and a boat--" George paused to look about him at the things in the nursery. "There are many good things here too! I shall enjoy this room very much, I think."
"If you want, you may play with--"
"This is a very good horse!" George cried when he spied a large wooden horse painted glossy black, ran to it, and climbed on. "I am going to name it Wind, because it is strong and fast, like the wind." In an instant he had it rocking at a great pace.
"But it has a name. He is called Zeus."
George laughed and said, "That is a good name too. He can have both." He dismounted then and hurried to a spot where two small wooden swords, a shield, and a helmet were collected together.
"Oh! Swords! Come. We can play knights!" He gathered the shield, helmet, and a sword for himself, handing the remaining sword to Fitzwilliam.
Even the vigorous mock battle, which both boys relished equally, did not check George's high-spirited tongue.
"I saw a pony in the stables here, grey with a black tail. I am going to ask my father to give it to me."
"Actually, that is my po--"
"Or maybe Mr. Darcy will give it to me. He is my godfather. Did you know that?"
"Do you have a godfather? Is Mr. Darcy your godfather too?"
Fitzwilliam was about to laugh at the joke and tease George about it until he suddenly realized that George did not know who Fitzwilliam really was. He would find out soon. That was bound to be, but for now he was merely another boy to George, someone to play with, and at this moment it was enough. More knowledge could wait until later, perhaps even another day.
Fitzwilliam's back was to the door when George stopped battling and ran towards it, crying with excitement, "Look! Look at me! I am a knight! I have a sword! Look!"
Mr. Darcy had entered the room and, when George ran to him, Fitzwilliam turned and experienced one of the greatest surprises of his life to that point.
His father was an amiable man, given to easy smiles and good humor. But Fitzwilliam had never seen him succumb to sudden and full laughter like this before. Mr. Darcy was all astonished unrestrained delight.
In fact he could barely speak through his laughter, but managed to say, "Indeed you are, young George. And indeed you do."
While George capered around him, making feints at him with the wooden sword, and trying to scowl like a fearsome warrior, Mr. Darcy burst out in a fresh torrent of laughing.
His face was still suffused with smiles when he continued by asking, "Are you enjoying yourself then? Is Pemberley all you hoped?"
"It is! There are many dogs and horses and a pond with a boat and," George pointed to Fitzwilliam, "I have this boy to play with."
Mr. Darcy's son, of whom he was so proud, stood slender and straight and awkward and calm, even though only seven, looking at him with those steady dark eyes, so like Lady Anne's, in silence, as was his nature. Mr. Darcy smiled a small smile of love and pride, which his son returned. Hopefully Fitzwilliam understood that, though young George Wickham could make him laugh like no other, it was only his son who could make him almost weep.
"Yes. Yes. You do have him and lucky for it too. For both of you, I hope. So I shall go now and leave you to your play, boys. This could be the beginning of a life-long friendship."The End