Posted on Tuesday, 15 October 2002, at 8:32 a.m.
It was a cold, windy, dreary day in Derbyshire. The late autumn leaves had almost all fallen, and the chill of winter was beginning to set in. The cemetery was silent, in spite of the size of the crowd that had gathered there.
The occasion was Mr Darcy senior's funeral. All the servants of Pemberly had come to bid farewell to their beloved master. All the tenants had come to see their generous landlord off. All the people from Lambton had come to pay their respects to a wonderful, kind man. His children had come to bury him. And Charles Bingley was there to support his friend.
Bingley and Darcy had been together in town when the express had come. Darcy had strong reservations about leaving his sick father to attend his graduation ceremony, but the elder Mr Darcy had persuaded him to go. Darcy did not want to stay alone, so he invited his best friend to stay with him. Knowing how important it was that Darcy not be alone if something happened, as he had been, Bingley readily agreed.
As soon as the doorbell rang late that night, Bingley knew. They had been sitting in the study discussing the graduation ball to be held the next night. Darcy took one look at the letter, and his face went white.
'Bingley, I must go to Pemberly tonight.'
It had taken quite some time for Bingley to convince him that travelling so far at night was dangerous, and that the funeral would not be held the next day, and that they could easily set off at dawn the next morning. And of course, he would not hear of Darcy going alone.
Bingley was up most of the night, just listening for his friend, but he didn't hear what he so wanted to : Darcy crying.
The next morning, they left before the sun had risen.
The ride was long and strenuous, but they made it in good time. Darcy wanted to be with his sister, which was understandable. They didn't talk much, except to discuss the technicalities of the funeral. Bingley wanted to help Darcy, to support his, but he knew that would only happen when Darcy opened up. So for the meanwhile, Bingley just offered a comfortable silence, a refuge for Darcy's grieving thoughts.
The following morning the funeral was held in the cemetery of the Lambton chapel. The elder Mr Darcy was buried next to his beloved wife, in the fir-sheltered Darcy corner.
Miss Darcy, Georgiana, wept through the entire ceremony. Young as she was, she had already lost one parent; or rather faced a life without knowing one parent, and now she had lost her other. Now all she had in the world was her brother.
It seemed that Miss Darcy was to shed her tears for both of them. Her brother stood stiff, staring off into the distance at the Pemberly Woods. Bingley stood behind him, hoping that his presence would bring some comfort.
Bingley went back to Pemberly just to be with them. Any time not spent with the long line of condolence callers, from every sphere of society, was spent in Darcy's study. There they would read or play chess, very seldom speaking.
The crisis came on Sunday night. Darcy would traditionally spend the night with his father going over things happening on the estate in the coming week. After dinner Miss Darcy retired pleading a headache, and Darcy went to his study to plan the week ahead. Quietly, Bingley followed and settled himself at the other end of the room to write to his sister.
They continued in silence for about twenty minutes, with the fierce snowstorm raging outside the window, until Darcy suddenly threw down his pen and shouted 'Blast it!' Bingley, anticipating what was to come, rose and poured two glasses of brandy.
'These stupid ledgers will not balance, and I do not know who owes rent this week or who needs paying. I cannot do this!'
The last was said at volume with a slam of the fist on the table. Bingley handed Darcy the glass with the words 'Get it out.'
'I don't want to get it out. There is nothing to get out. I knew this was coming, and I was prepared. I can take care of the estate, and Georgiana on my own. Fitzwilliam will have to spend most of his time fighting on the continent, but I can still look after her.' He stopped for a long drink, emptying his glass, which Bingley promptly refilled. 'I can handle this on my own. I will be strong. Georgiana needs me to be strong. I can be strong. I can and I will.' By now he had worked himself into something of a state, and he took another large sip. 'I can, can't I?'
At which point Darcy took a deep breath, hung his head between his knees and began to sob. So Bingley started talking, speaking about how his father had died with no prior warning, just never got out of bed one morning. How he also had to assume responsibility, with no prior training. How he had to take care of his two inconsolable older sisters. How he had also tried to be strong and tried to be strong, until he couldn't anymore. How after he had fallen apart he had slowly begun putting himself back together again. And how the only way Darcy could be expected to get over this was to allow himself to grieve, and then move on.
Darcy stopped crying and began to talk about his father, and all the responsibilities that were now his. They continued talking and sharing, each finding relief from his hidden pain.
Two hours and half a decanter of brandy later, they were still at it. They were now talking about their sisters.
'I don't know what I shall do with Goergiana. She has no sisters. I suppose she will have to go to a school. One day, she will have a sister, when I marry.'
'In the meantime, she can share mine. They are always eager for new friends. Louisa is soon to be married, but they can still see her. No, I have enough of sisters. I have always wanted a brother, though.'
Darcy looked at him seriously, or as seriously as his intoxicated state would allow. 'We shall be brothers,' he pronounced, as if it were the most sure thing in the world (irrespective of the facts that he had never met Bingley's sisters, and Georgiana was much too young.)
Bingley looked at him just as earnestly for a moment, and then they both burst out laughing.
Five years later, Netherfield
Darcy was pacing Bingley's study. He had been watching Bingley and Miss Jane Bennet and had seen the affection in her eyes, although not in her reserved manner. He had been very wrong to interfere. He hoped Bingley would forgive him. No, Bingley would certainly forgive him, just would Miss Elizabeth, hopefully his Elizabeth?
'What is it man? You seem like a caged tiger. If you don't stop that you will ruin my carpet!' Bingley had been in a far better mood lately, probably because he also saw Miss Bennet's affection.
'Bingley, I have something to tell you. You will not be impressed, but I believe you will be grateful. Last winter, when I told you Miss Bennet was indifferent to you, I wasn't at all sure. She is very reserved, and I took that polite, modest attitude to be indifference. I have reason to believe she still cares for you, and she always has.'
'You mean to say you separated me from Jane?'
'Yes, and she was in town and I did not tell you. She called on your sisters and they returned the call. I am exceedingly sorry. It was not my place to interfere, and I sincerely apologise.'
'My sisters knew too?' Seeing the apprehensive took on Darcy's face, he added, 'yes, yes, I forgive you. At least you admitted you were wrong. But you think Jane still loves me?'
The assurance was given, and before dawn the next morning Darcy set off for London on business. During the journey, he had ample time to consider how long it would be before he received word of Bingley's engagement, and equally with thoughts of if he would ever be able to give Bingley similar news.
Before many days had passed, Darcy had reason to write to Bingley to congratulate him. His business was almost completed, but he wondered if he should return to Hertfordshire, how he would be received there. No, not how he would be received, how Elizabeth would receive him. As he handed the letter to his man to post, he was surprised by the entry of his aunt, who had some very interesting information, and opinions to convey.
That evening he returned to Netherfield. The very next morning he accompanied Bingley to Longbourne, where he had the opportunity of walking with Elizabeth and securing her affections and her hand. Fortunately for them, Caroline Bingley arrived just as they were about to enter the house. Mr Darcy escorted both women in, giving no one in the room any suspicion of what had passed.
Darcy was as grave as ever during dinner, and even more that usual on the way back to Netherfield. As they exited the carriage, he mentioned to Bingley that he needed to speak to him. So the two men retired to the library.
'Bingley, do you remember that talk that we had, just after my father passed away?' They never spoke of, or even alluded to, that discussion, so Bingley was slightly worried about what was coming.
'About our being brothers?' prompted Darcy.
'Yeesss. Oh, no Darcy, you didn't ask Caroline to marry you, did you?' The horrified look on Bingley's face, and the absurdity of the suggestion, sent Darcy into hysterics. Seeing this was not so, Bingley also started laughing.
When he had calmed down enough to speak, Darcy said 'We are to be brothers, but not like that,' and promptly burst out laughing again.
While Darcy was laughing, Bingley had a chance to think. It did not take long for him to put the pieces together. 'Miss Elizabeth!'
'Yes, my Elizabeth. I always thought we would do very well as brothers...'
Half the night was spent in conversation, a conversation mirroring the concurrent one at Longbourne.
The day Bingley and Darcy became brothers was as bright and clear as can be, the exact opposite of the night when they had first suggested it. It was the day when each achieved the desire of his heart. As each stood awaiting his bride, walking together on their father's arms, he thought of the very good fortune that had brought him to such a place in life, and each thought how life could hardly get better.
But better it did get. Within the year, the Bingleys bought and estate barely two hours from Pemberly. At first Darcy coached Bingley on the running of an estate, but soon sought out his friend's judgement. Their wives insisted on a very frequent intercourse, so frequent that the Bingleys had a room at Pemberly and the Darcys had a room at Firwood Manor, for those nights when the weather was too bad to allow for travelling on the good road between their estates.
And when, before long, young Bingleys and Darcys began to enter this world, any joy or sorrow was shared. They grew up together, not siblings or cousins but friends.
Twenty five years later, Pemberly
The Bingleys and the Darcys had gathered at Pemberly for the wedding of the youngest, Anne Darcy. The youngest Darcy had married the oldest Bingley, James. Seeing how well the cousins had always connected, their mothers had jokingly suggested they should marry. Secretly, their fathers had approved immensely of the plan; for Bingley had wanted a sweet, pretty intelligent girl for his son, and Darcy wanted to be sure his baby was not marrying a rogue. But all were surprised when they announced their engagement. They did pretend to ask for consent, but all the while knowing that for this partner, it was not needed.
While Jane and Elizabeth were preparing Anne for her wedding journey, the proud fathers went to the study.
'Do you remember that time we were in here, after my father died?'
'I don't know what's coming, but yes, I remember, the conversation about how we would be brothers. Well, we have been brothers for almost three decades now, so what are you going to spring on me?'
'Nothing, don't worry. It's just that we will be grandfathers of the same children.'
They sat and spoke about the wedding for a few moments, or spoke as best as men can about a wedding. Both were exceedingly proud of their child, and of their choice of partner. Before they heard their wives coming down the passage.
'Do you know what just occurred to me, Lizzy? Now we will be not only sisters, but the mothers of each other's children, and grandmothers of the same!'
Needless to say, when they entered the library, they could not understand what could be so funny.