Longbourne - Summer
To her eyes, they were the most adorable children that ever walked the earth. With their curly hair and golden brown eyes, they were absolutely the epitome of cherubic to her. Never mind that they were often, very often, exceptionally mischievous. As long as they could not actually destroy anything, it did not signify how naughty they were.
This was the highly biased opinion of one Elizabeth Bennet on her younger cousins, the junior Gardiners. Any objective opinion would confirm that they were cute children, provided they were behaving themselves. To the credit of Mrs Gardiner, their mother, this was most of the time.
And now Elizabeth had but one night to enjoy them. The following morning she was to set out on a tour of the Derbyshire area with her aunt and uncle, leaving her cousins in the very capable hands of her eldest sister Jane. Little did she know that this would be the trip that changed her life.
They were to be gone some weeks, and while Elizabeth did not often see the children, she was very attached to them. And so it was that Elizabeth could be found in Longbourne's old nursery after dinner. Since Lydia had graduated from the nursery to a bedroom, the only sporadic occupants had been the Gardiner children. However, unbeknownst to anyone, within 18 months the nursery would play host to some new occupants - a young Bingley and a young Darcy.
To continue, Elizabeth was in the nursery. The hour was growing late, so she offered to read the children a story. Emma, age 9, settled in on her right; Sarah, age 5, sat on her left; Thomas, age 3, snuggled into her lap; and Andrew, age 7, perched on the back of her chair. Once everyone was thus seated, Elizabeth began her tale.
I will not sport with your intelligence by relating the particulars of the fairy tale. It was a standard story of a princess being rescued by a prince, concluding with a wedding. Except for Thomas (who had fallen asleep after the first 2 pages), the children were captivated by the story, becoming very involved with the struggles and triumphs of both the prince and the princess. They became so involved, in fact, that they were determined to see the story become reality.
'Lizzy, are you married?' inquired Sarah seriously.
'No, my dear, I am not. What would give you that idea?'
'Well, you are so nice that you should be married!' quipped Andrew. 'But since you aren't, we will have to find you someone.'
'Yes, a true prince.' This was Emma's contribution. At age 9 she was becoming quite a romantic.
'If you can, I will be eternally grateful, but in the meantime it is high time you were all in bed. Thomas has already decided it was sleep time, and I think you should all follow his example.'
After the children were asleep, Elizabeth returned to relate this tale to Jane, who was overcome at how imaginative these children were.
Gracechurch Street - A month later
The affair with Lydia had been a stress on both Gardiners, who were happy to have finally married her off and ended the whole fiasco. They invited Mr Darcy to dine with them that night, partly as thanks for all he had done, but more because the couple had become quite close to the young man.
It was a simple family dinner, so the children were all in attendance. Apparently, they too approved of Mr Darcy, because they could not talk fast enough, or sit close enough, to Mr Darcy. After dinner it was requested of the gentlemen to honour them with a story (Emma made the request, as befits an almost-young-lady.) Andrew chose the story, which happened to be the same fairy tale Elizabeth had read to them at Longbourne.
Mr Darcy, of course, said he would. He had come to have a sneaking fondness for these children, although he knew not why. So they settled themselves in; Emma on his right, Sarah on his left, Andrew behind him and Thomas in his lap (who fell asleep after the first two pages).
At the conclusion of the story, Sarah remembered that they had decided that Lizzy would be the princess in the story. And while they had the princess, they still needed the prince. . .
'Mister, are you married?'
'Why, no Sarah, I am not. What would make you ask that?' Mrs Gardiner had been told the tale by Elizabeth, and was becoming suspicious.
Andrew caught on to what she was hinting, and asked 'Because we want to see the story happen. We have a princess, and she's as pretty as the lady in the story. But now we need a prince, and you would make a very good one, because you're very nice. Now all we need is the wedding with you and Lizzy!'
'Children, that is quite enough for one day. It is most definitely time for bed!' Mrs Gardiner actually thought a wedding between Mr Darcy and Elizabeth was an excellent idea. She sneaked a glance at Mr Darcy, who was bright red.
Pemberly - December
The Gardiners had been invited to spend the holiday season with their newly married relatives, the Darcys. There had come to be quite a close relationship between the two couples, with a mutual fondness for each other's company. Besides, the Darcy's were both very attached to the children.
It was on one cold and snowy evening that the Darcys and the Gardiners gathered in Pemberly's main sitting room. The Darcy's had offered to read the children a story, so they had settled in with Emma on Elizabeth's lap, Sarah on Darcy's lap, Thomas between them and Andrew behind them. Of course, the same fairy tale appeared.
At the end of the story, Sarah stood up and looked at Elizabeth and Darcy.
'What on earth are you doing?'
'I'm looking at you. When Lizzy read us the story for the first time, we wanted it to came true. So I'm trying to see if it did!'
'I think it did!' interjected Andrew.
'Me too!' added Emma (Thomas had fallen asleep after the first two pages.)
'Indeed it did,' murmured their father.
After the children had been safely tucked in by Mrs Gardiner and Elizabeth, the adults returned to the sitting room.
'Did you enjoy that?' asked Elizabeth, referring to her uncle's hearty laughter.
'I most certainly did. They have been planning this since you first read them the story, adding in people as they went along. And the two of you played the part quite well!'
'From the mouth of babes,' added his wife. 'From the mouth of babes.'