Posted on 2011-01-17
"Elizabeth, unlock this door."
"Go away if you value your life."
Tilting his head, hands on his hips, a haughty looking Darcy stared coldly down at the two children by his side, pinning them both with his intense gaze. The first victim of the infamous Darcy scowl was daughter Anne Marie, a usually joyous, bashful three year old moppet of soft auburn ringlets and huge green eyes. She would not look up at her father. Instead her shoulders hunched forward and she stared fixedly at the momma cat curled up and sleeping beneath a wall table.
Finding no success there Darcy turned his icy glare toward his son and heir, Bennet George. Anne Marie's husky older brother by ten months, Georgie was bolder than his sister, more self assured, more confident due to this advanced age of his. However, he too avoided his father's gaze, preferring instead to study the floor surrounding his muddy boots.
Darcy crouched down before the pair of them, his face somber, his voice deep and commanding. "All right, out with it you little heathens. What is all this secrecy about then?"
A giggling Anne Marie patted his cheek and kissed the tip of his nose then she twisted side to side, shaking her head conveying a decidedly 'no' answer. "Can't say, Papa. Uh-uh. It's to be a s'prise."
Darcy twisted on the ball of his boot to face his son, narrowed his eyes at the child, stared intently. The boy very nearly burst with childish glee. Huh! All this fatherly posturing was getting him nowhere so Darcy arched an imperial eyebrow, a maneuver he employed regularly in business or social affairs to exhibit his disdain and manifest his superiority to the outside world, always leaving grown men shaking in fear and grown women swooning with desire.
However, it was evidently thought of as a hoot and a half to his family. Both children clapped and squealed with delight. "Oooh! Do again, Papa," squeaked his daughter. She ran her hand across his face and tugged at the hairy affectation. Darcy allowed this accustomed familiarity to continue with barely an acknowledgement.
Evidently a more direct approach was needed he reasoned. Knowing all their weak points he poked a finger into his son's tummy, emphasizing each word, verbalizing his demands. "Bennet…George…Darcy, come clean now." Instead of quaking with fear Georgie skipped backward and howled with laughter, his tummy being one of the many ticklish sites on his body.
He so adored them both, found his eyes suddenly misting over from the sheer magnitude of this strong emotion. And not for the first time either. He would often discover himself overwhelmed by his love for them. These hooligans, these physical manifestations of the lusty love he bore their mother, were a constant source of wonderment, anxiety, adoration, pride, fury, fear - his heart overflowed with emotions and incredibly the love only seemed to grow stronger with each passing day. Well, they were perfection, that's all there was to it; such good, obedient children… always. All right, usually then. He couldn't help but laugh himself at their current state of excitement, whatever the cause.
The doors behind him opened a slight crack to reveal Elizabeth, rather one of her sparkling eyes, peaking out at him. "Who's there?" she whispered softly and then giggled like a child herself. Darcy tried very hard to look severe. He scowled. He raised his chin. It was no use; he adored her. She had proven over their years together to be a little scamp in her own right, but in a wholly different and wonderfully alluring way. The normally staid Darcy experienced a rush of primal lust for her that was so physical and so intense he considered it a weakness, unseemly, undignified, and very, very uncomfortable.
He attempted the arched brow once again but she too found that hilarious. She snorted a whoop and a laugh but then covered her mouth with her hand, apologizing profusely. "Oh dearest. Please excuse me. You are too funny, William, but I haven't time to play silly face games with you now. Can't you go away for a half hour or so?" Her eyes were dancing with merriment.
He adjusted his stance as the tightening in his britches increased dramatically. "Elizabeth Bennet what sort of catastrophe are you cooking up now?"
Her eyes blinked rapidly in feigned innocence. "That's rather harsh of you, William. Hmmm? Don't you think? You found that fire before it spread, didn't you? Yes, and so no real harm was done. And your aunt never suspected I'd lost her dog for that week while she was in heat. The dog, I mean; not Aunt Catherine. Those puppies were very interesting to look at, in certain lights." She chewed on her lip evidently attempting to think of another situation without a dire outcome. All of a sudden her eyes lit up and she leaned forward to whisper, "…and you didn't seem to mind too terribly much when you swallowed one of those tiny pink bows I wore all over my…"
Darcy shushed her immediately then stiffened when he heard a cough from within. "Who is in there with you?"
"No one. My dearest why ever would you say that? I am quite alone. Now shoo. Go away." A disembodied crash dispelled that statement. "Lizzy turned around and groaned. "Oh you are bad dogs. Richard, could you…?"
'Madam?" He could hear Mrs. Reynolds whisper something from within.
"Oh, truly? Are we ready so soon? Excellent." Elizabeth disappeared for a moment then flung the doors wide. Clumps of confetti pummeled his face as several voices shouted out, "Happy Birthday!" Two massive dogs came bounding out sporting big red ribbons, then reentered the room, charging around in circles, knocking into tables and chairs. Squealing children barreled out next; in the flurry of paper shreds he could see they were Fitzwilliam children by their blond heads, eager to join his own two, all clapping their hands and cheering for cake. They pulled at his trousers and chased the dogs; everyone was applauding and cheering.
It was wonderful pandemonium.
Wiping bits of colored paper from his face and tongue Darcy was truly stunned. "Please tell me it is not my birthday again!?" He spoke aloud his utter disbelief, shaking his head in wonder. Time no longer moved at a sedate pace for the proud and austere Fitzwilliam Darcy – since his marriage and children it raced unimpeded like a runaway coach and four.
His sister Georgiana took his arm and pulled him into a room filled to bursting with family and friends as Jane and Charles Bingley approached with hands extended. "Happy Birthday, Darcy," Bingley shouted over the clapping and cheers, handing his old friend a glass of champagne as Jane kissed Darcy's cheek and hugged him. He saw a rare smile from Aunt Catherine de Bourgh, sitting now on her usual chair before the fireplace, accompanied by her daughter, Anne, a compress pressed upon the younger woman's forehead; Lizzy's father Mr. Horace Bennet was standing behind them raising his glass in toast.
Richard Fitzwilliam, his cousin and closest friend, motioned to him from the back of the room, holding two of the Darcy dogs in check by their collars. He and his wife Amanda were sitting on one of the couches, screaming in vain to three of their four children to behave. Georgiana's husband Viscount Lieutenant Beverly Ashcroft of his majesty's ship the Vanguard also raised his glass in salute as he turned from speaking with several other neighbors, old friends and distant cousins.
"Papa!" Darcy's lovely Anne Marie tugged at his trouser leg causing him to look down at her amidst the bedlam. "Were you s'prised, Papa?" she called out as loud as she could to be heard.
He swung her up into his arms and hugged her tightly. "Indeed I was, kitten," he laughed. "Indeed I was!"
It was two hours later and many of the non family guests had already left enabling the more immediate family to commence serious revelry and contention, and while Aunt Catherine had not moved from her vantage point before the unlit fireplace she still managed to orchestrate annoyance.
"Fitzwilliam," Catherine called out to her nephew. "Fitzwilliam, come sit by me. Yes, you! Now! I haven't all day to wait!" He froze in place, his shoulders hunched up, he turned slowly. "Don't scowl at me so you dreadful man - your face will freeze like that." Damn! He had been only moments from sneaking out to a remote, secluded area downstairs with Bingley and Darcy for cards, smelly smokes and man talk. Dear god. "Dear God what ghastly boots you wear, how old are they? Why do you keep looking about in that bizarre manner?" His eyes had a hunted, haunted look to them. He saw a servant pass by the door carrying the personal humidor and pipes that he kept here at Darcy's home. They were being removed to that wonderful little room downstairs. He longed to follow. "Come here I say! Are you deaf? And put your jacket back on! Where is your neck scarf?! Richard, you look like a gypsy, do you even own a brush!"
Against his better judgment Richard went grudgingly to his aunt's side.
"Yes, aunt. You bellowed."
Catherine's eyes had been darting toward Amanda all afternoon. "Tell me, Richard, how is your wife faring?"
His lips tightened against an angry retort. Why had this infernal woman called him over? His wife was standing across from her even as they spoke. "Ah, sadly aunt, Amanda could not be here with us this evening. She left me for the stable boy late yesterday."
Catherine's eyes narrowed with confusion. "Don't be absurd." Her gaze darted swiftly from her nephew, to his wife, and then back again. "She is standing in this very room – over there speaking with Elizabeth. I am staring at her right this minute!"
"Then ask her your own damn self how she fares!"
Catherine snapped open her fan in irritation. "You are disrespectful and rude, Richard. Henceforth, you are tossed from my will."
"Ah. Bad move on my part, that, seeing as how I was unaware you had tossed me back in from the last time." He looked longingly back to where he had been standing when she called him, gazing sadly at the half full glass of claret mistakenly left behind, now being removed by a servant.
"Truly? You are already out? Oh my. Perhaps you're right; la, my mind some days… Well, in that case I will merely shun you for a month…" Her hand automatically rose to stay yet another offensive remark from his lips. "Now, it appears to me that your wife is with child again. This is most unfortunate. "
Richard's head shot back. "Whatever are you talking about? Amanda is not enceinte." Dear God she just had the baby ten weeks ago. We have barely resumed,,,
"I had so wanted to speak to her regarding something – well there's no hope for it, you see. I will need to speak with you now, hideous as that prospect is for either of us."
"Aunt Catherine, Amanda is not – she cannot be – oh, why am I even bothering to discuss this? Look Catherine, the woman's fairly harmless. I'll call her over and you can say your piece straight to her face and be done with it."
"No! Oh, please don't catch her attention. I do so dislike being around young women while they breed.'
He was developing a truly bad headache. He rubbed his eyes. "Makes a racket, does it?"
"Oh, don't be ridiculous."
"Well, if she is with child as you claim, and I am not saying she is, what bothers you so? It's not a contagious condition you know."
"Certainly I know that, you woodcock. I am perfectly aware of the procreational process, Richard; the ins and outs as it were."
He stared at her in disbelief. Was she drunk or had she just made a bawdy jest? Any sort of jest would be monumental. Then he saw the glazed over and dilated eyes. No - definitely drunk or well on her way.
"And it is not Amanda per se that offends me, though at times I swear she makes a concerted effort to do so. No, it is just her general impression of joy that makes one gag. I am certain as an Englishman and an aristocrat you understand this." Catherine's thought processes never failed to fascinate her nephew, the odd convolutions of her brain would rival any drainage system.
His fists began to clench and unclench. He looked around. Where was that bottle he had been enjoying so much? Had they removed that as well? "So, Aunt Catherine, allow me to capsulate our inane discussion to this point. You wish to speak with my wife about something but have divined that she is with child so you prefer to discuss this mysterious something over with me due solely to the fact that you detest the joy she experiences being with child – if, indeed, she is wit child. Before we continue may I be informed as to why her happiness offends you so?" Being madly in love with, and particularly protective of, his American wife, Richard's temper was beginning to fray.
"Well, my word, look at your face! You would think I had said something offensive. Richard, of course she is breeding – again." She shook her head in distaste. "You have only to observe her a brief moment to discern her condition. She's positively luminous, she overflows with bliss. Gad! It's enough to make one ill. And she always does, you know, appear joyful I mean, during the entire abysmal process. There, look – see! She smiles and laughs."
Catherine glowered. "It is unseemly behavior, Richard! Overt enjoyment of expectancy is the opiate of the lower classes. A truly refined woman would refuse to be seen in that condition, take to her rooms, hide from sight. At the very least she would take great pains to appear wan and weak."
"Sounds like a Spanish law firm."
"This is insupportable! You are the most aggravating man! Let me explain once and for all. The problem obviously derives from her common Catholic upbringing, don't you see! Not only do they breed like rabbits, and never seem to tire of it, but, they actually enjoy children." Catherine nodded vigorously at his bewildered expression then reached up to restore a wandering cheek patch to its designated location. She also gave a little heave ho to her tower of hair. "They receive these tendencies as babes through the mother's papist milk."
He really needed to find that bottle. "Her mother wasn't Catholic. It was her father that was Catholic."
"Oh what difference is there?! Why do you argue with me so?! Lady Catherine was herself now very agitated. "As always you oppose me at all turns; it is most unpleasant, most vexing. However, I shall overlook this since what I wanted to speak to you both about was your daughter, Catherine Marie."
"Oh God." His chin dropped to his chest. He knew this day would come the moment he agreed to name his first daughter after her. Sighing heavily he motioned to the distinguished looking wine steward whose main job was sampling the quality of each bottle opened and then supervising the efficiency and skill of his staff in serving it. His customary post was behind a vast table covered with white damask and bouquets of flowers; tubs of champagne and wine cooled in ice at his feet. He jumped at Fitzwilliam's summons bringing with him a fresh glass for the Colonel to sample the quality of the wine he would be pouring for him. Fitzwilliam pushed aside the glass and grabbed the bottle, sending the man immediately off for another. "I'm ready now, Catherine; we may begin."
"Well, I was thinking…"
Fitzwilliam groaned and began to pour.
"I believe it would be in your daughter's best interest to allow me to take her in hand and help to prepare her to become a proper Englishwoman. She's such a fragile little thing, such a joy to me, so delicate and demur – she is named for me, did you know that. Oh, yes, of course you knew that – she's yours isn't she?" Catherine slapped his shoulder and began to laugh uproariously, then just as suddenly returned to serious business.
She was drunk all right, he thought, foxed as a lord. Fitzwilliam scratched the back of his neck he as fought back his grin. Ye Gods! On top of that the thought of his three year daughter being tiny and demur was absurd. The girl was already as tall as her brothers and cousin Georgie; responded to a family nickname of "Beefy." She moved her compact little body around like a small Viking raiding party.
Catherine "Beefy" Marie was as tough as the boys and twice as smart.
"Girls are like fragile little sponges at this age, Fitzwilliam; it would be best to begin educating her in some of the basics while still so young. Stop scowling! You must admit being an American Amanda is unaccomplished with regard to the more basic social graces such as music, painting, speaking comprehensible English. Well, to be blunt neither of you behave properly. At the few balls you both deign to attend you dance only with each other, never leave each other's side, you even rearranged table settings at my last dinner party so you could sit together during the meal. It's insupportable." She shook her head in uncomprehending dismay. "I've seen you hold her hand in public."
"Of course your boys are a different matter – they have you as an example…" When he waggled his eyebrows at her she snapped open her fan once again. "Disregard that. They have Darcy to look up to as an example." She smiled and waved as the object of her admiration motioned to them from across the room. Actually he and Charles were trying to attract Fitzwilliam and hurry him on, eager to take his money at cards. They began to approach, a bit of unsteadiness in their pace. Catherine continued, "Darcy is so elegant, so handsome, so refined…"
Darcy and Bingley threw their arms around each other suddenly and began to sing "Barbara Allen," in deep baritone, their deportment gravely serious as they changed the words in the title to "Convicted Felon." Then they burst into laughter again. Fitzwilliam grunted his amusement, "…and so inebriated…"
Outside, in the garden, the children played. They had been with their nannies and nurses, playing quietly in the fresh air and sunshine for at least two hours; now they were being left for a moment, on their own, save for one lone young maid. It was twilight and all the servants save that one poor girl were being allowed a sip of champagne and some cake, served under a canopy. If Darcy, Fitzwilliam and his aunt had turned to look they would easily have identified the silhouettes of little Matthew and Mark Fitzwilliam and dear Georgie Darcy, all four years old, playing sweetly together. Already the three were more like triplets than twin brothers and a cousin.
And little but mighty, three year old Catherine Marie Fitzwilliam, played nearby kissing the head of what appeared to be her dolly. She giggled and laughed happily with her dearest friend, three year old Anne Marie Darcy. It was such a happy sound - the laughter and joy of innocent childhood.
Inside, Darcy had joined his aunt, eager to rescue his cousin.
"You are looking well, Fitz, if a little dazed, must be that splendid Cornish climate. How are you this evening, Aunt Catherine?"
"I have a serious heart ailment and could die at any moment." She smiled gamely. "However, I feel I must struggle on, to live for you and Fitzwilliam."
"Well, don't go to any trouble on our account." Fitzwilliam had barely gotten the words out before Darcy's boot heel ground down on his cousin's foot.
"I'm sure that is very good of you, Aunt Catherine." Darcy nudged Fitzwilliam to the end of the settee and sat down, forming a much needed barrier between his cousin and his aunt. "So. Catherine. Have you seen the children? They have grown so quickly, haven't they? They all exceptionally wonderful."
Behind the settee, beyond the French doors, on the lovely terrace where the sun set and the children played, Matthew Fitzwilliam had been repeatedly punching his brother Mark in the nose. Mark, always eager to give as good as he got, hurled himself at his twin brother, his little arms windmilling and chubby legs pumping. At the sight of a fight Georgie Darcy emitted a great primal type yell, smiled happily, and then launched himself onto the pile. This little bundle of entwined ruffled shirts, short pants and lovely town shoes rolled over and over until it flipped off of the terrace, into the muddy flower patch that was adjacent.
It was then that Catherine Marie Fitzwilliam and tiny little Anne Marie Darcy waddled over to the edge of the terrace attracted by the shrieks of the lone little nursemaid as she ran screaming down the stairs. As it turned out, the little girls were not playing with toy dollies, per se. They had been dressing the mama cat, called Mama Cat, in dolly clothes and were now dragging the infuriated hissing creature over to toss into the melee. Milo the Dog, his bow still securely attached, ran straight for the cat, leaping into mid air just as Catherine Marie and Anne Marie pulled their feline charge away, sending the dog sailing onto the boys. The girls squealed with delight at the sight. One of the nannies had returned and ran back and forth screaming for help as the other Darcy dog, Buck, tried to catch her, barking and snapping at her heels.
"Yes, you must be quite proud of them; your children are all the very essence of the English upper class, are they not? Such good manners; such noble bearing. I mentioned this recently to my daughter, Anne." Anne de Bourgh was just managing to finish her fourth serving of cheese tart, sickly as the poor darling was, and would not be diverted from her fifth. She barely waved acknowledgement, then belched.
Hearing something Darcy began to turn his head toward the window. "Yes, well, I thank you aunt and blush to admit it is true, I believe Fitzwilliam and I both can be pretty proud of… Oh, damn! Blast and bloody hell! I will kill those children."To Be Continued . . .