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Dearest Anne Book 2 Final Chapter # 18

January 03, 2021 10:55PM
Dear Readers, my story comes to a close with this chapter. Get yourself a cup of tea; it's a long one! I hope you enjoy.

Final Chapter # 18

The acrobats, with their colorful and bejeweled costumes, enchanted the children as they sat in a semicircle on the drawing room floor. The performers had built a human pyramid reaching the chandelier and were now jumping off into a tumble or somersault, coming to land before the birthday boy. Everyone clapped and squealed with delight, all except Susan, who was attempting tumbles of her own. She had been getting in the way of all the performers, refusing to understand that she was part of the audience, not their star performer.

For much of the program she had been seated on Edward's lap, in awe of all that was going on around her. But when the magician selected Edward to participate in his final trick, he refused and volunteered his sister instead. It's not that he didn't wish to take part himself, but he knew how thrilled Susan would be to do it. At two, she had no fear or sense of embarrassment. And once she had tasted the limelight, there was no stopping her.

Elizabeth beamed and blew a kiss to her son from across the room. He had turned out to be a most generous and loving big brother, despite the fact that he continued to call her “bad baby”. It had become a term of endearment for him which his parents had come to accept. The only problem was having to explain it to others.

It was at that very moment that Elizabeth was urgently summoned downstairs.

She came hastily down the steps, afraid that something dreadful had happened, and upon seeing Anne with a babe in her arms, was completely dumbfounded. But then Anne's big smile and brimming eyes, propelled her forward to ask, “Anne, Simon, who is this little one?”

“She is our daughter, Elizabeth! Our newly adopted daughter ... and her name is Lilly,” said Anne, allowing herself to laugh through her tears.

Elizabeth could not have been more pleased or surprised! She kissed the proud new parents again and again, wishing them joy and all the blessings in the world, before leading them all to the nursery. Once there, she instructed Nanny Henderson to take charge of Lilly's care.

“Not to worry, Nanny. I will find other staff to deal with the children once they come upstairs. May I introduce Betty to you, Nanny? She is Lilly's nurse and will attend to her while you set up my bedroom as a temporary nursery. It will just be for tonight. I shall send you a footman to bring in Susan's cradle and all the supplies you may require. If you need any assistance, do not hesitate to send Martha to fetch me or the Fennimores.

Anne had a difficult time tearing herself away from her baby, but knew that Edward would be wondering why she and Simon were not there. Placing a soft kiss on Lilly's brow, she followed Elizabeth and Simon downstairs.

The entertainment concluded, Fitzwilliam and Georgiana had shepherded the children into the dining room for the birthday feast. All of Edward's best loved dishes were there, along with several other favorites of the younger generation. Instead of the usual serving staff, the women of the family were there to serve and help the children when needed. That way, they could enjoy being part of the festivities first hand.

The men of the family were making their way into the billiard room, when Simon pulled Fitzwilliam aside and whispered in his ear. “Brother, do me a kindness and fetch Juliana ... then meet me on the upstairs landing. I have something wonderful to show you.”

Darcy looked perplexed, but did as he was bid. Once upstairs, they were both shocked to see Simon opening Elizabeth's bedroom door! What in the world did he think he was doing?

As Lilly was presently being nursed, the three of them moved to a small hidden alcove that contained a bright window and Elizabeth's dressing table. Juliana sat, as her brother told the story of Lilly's miraculous arrival into their lives. All three were overcome with emotion and joy! They waited impatiently to actually meet her, and when they did, could not contain their happiness.

“I was wondering why you were so late to arrive!” said Darcy. “But I assumed there was a patient you could not neglect. What a blessing! What a tremendous blessing she will be for us all!”

Julianna was too emotional to speak. Ever since giving birth to her twin boys, she had felt a pang of guilt concerning Anne and her brother. Life had already been so unkind to them both. Yes, they shared a tremendous love, but she wanted more for them. She wanted them to share in everything good that life had to offer!

Elizabeth called all the family together for the presentation of the birthday cake. Edward blew out his candles, then demanded they be lit again so Susan could have a turn. After opening and admiring all his gifts, he saw his friends to the door to say goodbye. Now came the most exciting part of his birthday, the sleepover! He loved having his many cousins over to stay!

The boys would sleep together in Edward's room, while the girls in Susan's nursery. Jane's two eldest daughters were tasked with paying some attention to the little ones, though Mary, a very sweet housemaid would be in charge. A half hour of dress up and dolls would be permitted before a story and bed.

Charlie, still Edward's favorite, was instructed to oversee the pillow fight, to help in the construction of a large cave made of bedding and chairs, and to read a swashbuckling pirate story. A half hour of giggling and whispering beneath the covers would also be tolerated before quiet would be insisted upon.

*****

It was finally time for the adults to enjoy the elaborate birthday dinner the Darcys had planned. And now, there was even more to celebrate! Toast after toast was offered and soon everyone was quite giddy … except for our new parents, who realized they would need their wits about them tonight and tomorrow morning.

“Ah, you see,” said the Colonel, chuckling, “in just an evening, you have turned into practical, responsible parents – sacrificing your desire for wine for the benefit of your child!”

*****

Awakened by the movement and whispers in the corridor, Edward stepped out of his room to the sight of footmen and maids carrying Susan's cradle and other baby things down the stairs. He then saw his mother leaving her bedchamber with an infant in her arms. He knew it was impossible, but was nevertheless concerned.

“Who is that? And what is it doing here?” he demanded.

Anne, who was a step behind Elizabeth, came forward to embrace him. “Edward, my darling boy, your uncle Simon and I have yet another gift for you! The very best gift of all – a new little cousin! I know the two of you will be fast friends when you are older. Is she not beautiful, Edward?” asked Anne as Elizabeth bent down to show him the baby.

“I don't like babies, and they all look the same to me. But this one is not as red as Susan was. It is too bad that she is a girl, for I will have no reason to play with her. Good night.” He turned and went back to bed.

“Well, that dashes my fondest hopes, Anne,” said Elizabeth, laughing. “I had dreams of engaging our children to one another, here and now. Is that not the family tradition?” Everyone laughed heartily as they made their way to the carriage.

*****


PEMBERLEY --- TWENTY YEARS LATER, UPON EDWARD DARCY'S GRADUATION FROM UNIVERSITY


Darcy stood before the large foyer window, his hands clasped behind his back, staring out at the gravel path of the courtyard. He had been there for quite some time and Elizabeth wished to distract him. She wrapped her arms about his waist from behind and leaned against him, resting her head on his shoulder.

“Fitzwilliam, darling, staring at the road will not bring him home any sooner. Come and have some tea with me … or something stronger, if you wish.”

Darcy did not respond to her offer, but said, “If he comes in a single coach, we will know.”

“Fitzwilliam, we already know. Simon would not have forewarned us if it were not true. He would not risk causing us any pain.”

“Three or four carriages could manage all his belongings, and he would need them if he were coming home to stay. A single coach would mean that we have lost him.”

“Oh Fitzwilliam, we will never lose him! Even if he rejects his inheritance and wishes to lead a different life, he will always be our son – our loving, devoted son. You cannot deny that he truly loves us!”

“Of course he does … I know he does. But Pemberley does not arouse his sense of duty.”

“Your love for me made you rethink your sense of duty to your family … and perhaps even Pemberley.”

“Yes, but that was different. I couldn't live without you. I had no choice.”

Elizabeth chuckled to herself but said nothing. Suddenly, she felt her husband's body stiffen. “There, the first coach is approaching,” cried Darcy.” They both waited breathlessly for the next to come into view, but none came. Darcy's head and shoulders slumped; he tightened his grip on wife's fingers.

“Fitzwilliam, remember all we've discussed. We will not lose him unless we drive him away ourselves. We must listen carefully to all he says and take him seriously. He is an intelligent and sensitive young man. Try not to lose your temper. Simon gave us the time to prepare for this … and we are. Now come, let us welcome him home.”

Even before they reached door, Susan had flown down the stairs and out into the courtyard. In seconds, she was in her brother's arms. “Oh, Edward, I am so happy to have you home! I have missed you so much!”

“It is a joy to be home and to see you looking so well. Is it proper for a brother to tell his sister how beautiful she is?”

“Proper or not, I love hearing it!”

“And shall I finally be meeting your illustrious fiancee?”

“Not just yet, I'm afraid. He is in Vienna, conducting his new violin concerto. I am so terribly proud of him, but these tours to the continent are awful. I am so lonely and bored without him.”

“Yes, but once you are wed you shall travel together and get to see the world. You shall be a very lucky woman, indeed.”

On spotting his parents, Edward released Susan from his embrace and ran towards them, kissing his mother first, then heartily embracing his father. “How I love coming home to your smiling faces. It is good to be home, Mama, Papa. I hope you are well.”

“Very well, my dearest boy. And most excited to have you home,” said Elizabeth, returning his kisses.

“Yes, we have been looking forward to this day for months. Welcome home, Edward,” said Darcy, squeezing his son's shoulder. “Well, let us get inside and give you a chance to rest after your long journey.”

*****

Dinner was a noisy, merry affair with all five Darcy children trying to get their brother's attention. “Let Edward have his meal in peace,” chided Darcy. “He is not running away. You will have all your questions answered in time.” He was sorry the moment he said it. Foolish, he thought. What a bad choice of words! But Edward did not seem to notice. He was flattered to be so loved by his siblings, and enjoyed the easy going, yet lively family table.

Dinner had been delayed, and with all the chatter and laughter, the hour had grown late. Elizabeth suggested they all retire, given their eventful, exciting day. Her children grumbled but dutifully made their way to the stairs. Edward, however, stayed behind and asked, “Are you terribly tired Mama … Papa? Could we sit and talk for a bit? I have some news I am bursting to tell you.”

“Well, you have certainly renewed my energy with that remark, Edward. Of course your father and I would love to hear your news. Come, let us sit in the small parlor together.”

With much trepidation, the elder Darcys made themselves comfortable in their favored places, while Edward poured his father a port. He took a small brandy for himself and one for his mother. Placing his glass on the mantle, he began to pace back and forth in front of the hearth.

“Where to begin – where to begin?” he muttered to himself. “Well, simply put” … he had finally stopped pacing and faced them directly, “I am in love! Madly, completely and passionately in love! And I've come for your permission to wed. I need your blessing, as does my intended.”

His parents were dumbstruck! Darcy's jaw slackened and Elizabeth simply stared at her son as if he were a stranger. Regaining her voice, she finally asked, “Goodness, Edward! How is it that we are first hearing of this woman now? How long have you known her?”

“Actually, I have known her for quite some time, but I only recently came to understand my feelings for her.” He took a rather large swig of his brandy and continued.

“When I first came to know her I thought her a complete and utter pest. She followed me around, forever wanting my attention, forcing herself into all my activities.”

“Edward, what sort of young woman would behave in such a way? Has she no self respect?” asked Darcy, surprised that his son would even tolerate such a person.

“Well, we were both rather young, Papa.” He chuckled. “Some years later, my annoyance developed into resentment. She continued to insert herself into my life and when I allowed it – which was not very often – she proved herself superior to most of my mates in everything she did. She really challenged me at chess, was equal to me in riding and proved excellent at archery. She was a thoughtful reader and conversationalist, and honestly, more amusing than most of my male friends. But being a girl, I could not allow her to sully my reputation.”

Elizabeth experienced an inexplicable feeling in the pit of her stomach.

“Some time later, when I heard talk among my acquaintances of her popularity at balls and other social events, I became even more resentful ... angry even. I could not explain these feelings, but should have guessed, as I woke up each morning with the evidence of my having dreamt of her.” He lowered his gaze from his mother's eyes in embarrassment.

“Now that I have finally allowed myself to love her, I understand that she has loved me all along! It is as if she knew, in her heart, that we were destined to be together. You must by now have guessed that it is Lilly of whom I speak. I know you already love her … most dearly. She is not a blood relation, so we are safe there, but of course, the big question is … can you abide the next Mistress of Pemberley being illegitimate?” he said more softly. “I have already proposed, but she will not accept me without your blessing.”

Elizabeth found herself quite dizzy – her head spinning, her heart pounding faster and faster. Did Anne already know? She must, as Edward would have spoken to Simon before proposing. Why had she not forewarned them about this as well? The answer came to her instantly. The Fennimores did not wish to influence them in any way. It was a difficult decision and one they would have to make on their own!

All three were silent for a very long time. Eventually, Edward broke the silence.

“I have shocked you, and set before you an extremely difficult decision. I understand you need time to digest all I've said. Think on it. Please. After breakfast, we can ride out together and talk again.” He hesitated for a moment before adding, “I do however, want you to know that Lilly and I will wed regardless. I cannot … I will not live without her. The issue is really the running of Pemberley.” There it was.

Elizabeth could feel the heat of her husband's anger rising and signaled her son to leave the room immediately! “Good night, Edward,” she said firmly.

“Devious little bast …” hissed Darcy under his breath once the door had closed. “He wishes to give up his responsibility for Pemberley and designs a scheme to make it my decision! How dare he? How dare he?!!! I would not have thought him capable of ...”

“Fitzwilliam, I know this all seems very calculated, but …. it may not be. After all, he would not offer to Lilly if he didn't truly love her. I know that much. And as for the rest, we have not yet heard, from his own lips, what he wants to do with his life. Come upstairs. Perhaps a hot bath before bed will calm us both. Come, my love,” she said, offering him her hand.

They lay awake, staring at the ceiling, deep in thought. Every once in a while, Darcy would rise, sit at the edge of the bed with his head in his hands, and mutter to himself. “I should call his bluff and bless the union immediately. Let us see what he does then!”

“Societal rules aside, would it be so terrible?” replied Elizabeth, “Would Lilly not make a perfectly acceptable mistress for this house? She has impeccable manners, is highly intelligent and very diplomatic. She would be sensitive to everyone's needs, from our staff and tenants to our family and friends.”

“You do not need to convince me of Lilly's virtues, Elizabeth. We both know she has been impeccably brought up and is the sweetest girl imaginable. You know how fond I am of her. But … she is illegitimate. And although we have broken many societal barriers these past twenty five years, I don't think the world is ready for this. Besides, we have four other children to think of.”

“You struggled with Georgiana's fate when you married me, Fitzwilliam. Do you not remember what you said then? “Any man who would be deterred by our union could not love her enough, and would not be worthy of her. Would that not hold true for our children as well?”

“In theory, yes. In reality, I am not so sure.”

“Though at the moment I would like to throttle him,” continued Darcy, “my main concern is, after all, his happiness. I don't wish to see him saddled with Pemberley and utterly miserable for the rest of his life. Good G-d Elizabeth, with all the things that could go wrong for this family, I would never have imagined this. It is inconceivable, and I admit, I am not prepared.”

Elizabeth cuddled closer and kissed him. “Nor am I, Fitzwilliam. Nor am I.”

*****


Elizabeth dozed for short periods of time, but mostly lay awake thinking about everything and everyone concerned. What would the repercussions be were this to happen … or that? How would each person feel or respond in one situation or the other? One scenario however, kept chipping away at her heart. How could she and Fitzwilliam face Anne and say that Lilly was not good enough for their son? For no matter how they might couch it, that would be the message coming through. And the truth was that Lilly was perfect for him. It was society's prejudice that was the hurdle.

The elder Darcys slept late and had their breakfast sent up to them. They had finally gotten a few hours of deep sleep starting at five in the morning and knew it was more important to collect their thoughts than to rush downstairs ill prepared. Edward would surely think they were avoiding him, but that could not be helped. Happily, his brothers and sisters enjoyed having him to themselves and left him no time to worry about anything.

“Good morning, my darlings!” said Elizabeth cheerily upon entering the dining room. All her children were still sitting about, sharing anecdotes and exaggerated stories about their adventures since Edward's last visit.

“Your Papa, Edward and I are going riding this morning,” announced Elizabeth. “And you should return to your studies so that you may enjoy his company again this afternoon. We are starting out late, so we may not be back for lunch. Don't wait on us.”

*****

They had agreed to meet by the old oak on Tompson's Ridge so that Elizabeth could ride at her own pace, while father and son would use the extra time for a hard ride before their dreaded conversation. They watered their horses at a nearby stream, then settled themselves on the blanket Elizabeth had set out under the oak.

“Well,” said Edward nervously. “What have you decided?”

“Nothing as yet,” said Darcy calmly.

This response irritated Edward greatly. “And how long do you think it will be before you can give me answer, Father?”

“That depends on you, Edward. I cannot make a decision when I do not have all the information before me. There is much more to this than just marrying Lilly. I am waiting for you to tell me what else is on the agenda. And I need the truth, Edward.”

“The truth! The truth Papa, is that I have been struggling with my desire to study medicine for some time now. I have not shared these thoughts with you because I know what you expect of me … what your dreams for me have been since my birth. Father, you must believe that I do not wish to disappoint you. I love Pemberley as you do, but I cannot see myself devoting all my energies to it every day of my life. I want more. I need more. Science has become my passion and I want to learn all I can.”

“Edward, how did this come about? You have never shown any special inclination for the subject?” said Elizabeth.

It is a long story, Mother … one you may not wish to hear.”

“Go on,” said Darcy. “We have all day.”

“I suppose it began with my desire to see more of Lilly. All those school holidays that I claimed a need to stay and work, … I spent them in London, so I could make the easy ride to the Fennimores and arrange for secret meetings with Lilly. I never stayed with them … I would not put Anne and Simon in that position. They knew nothing of our secret meetings. And on my honor, I never asked them to keep my visits from you. But I suppose Lilly must have … otherwise you would have heard about them long ago. When Lilly and I wished to be on our own, we selected a secluded spot, very close to home so that Lilly could simply say she had been out walking. On those occasions, they never even knew I was there.

“No wait, you are wrong,” said Elizabeth. “Thinking back, I now remember Anne mentioning several times that you had made a brief visit … but I assumed that you had gone to London for a night or two of entertainment with some friends and stopped by on your way back to school.”

“Well yes, my visits to the family were timed for the very beginning or end of the school holiday so I could claim I was either heading or returning home. During these visits, I watched Simon work, plagued him with questions and begged to be of use with simple tasks. I developed a love for the work and a curiosity I cannot contain. And now that I have completed all the courses you wished me to take, I want to go back and study medicine in earnest.”

“Edward, you leave me speechless,” said Elizabeth. “How long have you been doing this?”

“For two years, Mama,” he said, shame faced. “I cannot tell you how it has pained me to deceive you, but I knew you would never allow me to switch courses. So I had to finish what I started, and with honors, to make you proud of me. Then perhaps I could convince you of the seriousness of my decision.”

“So, you wish me to pay for your University studies for a second time, marry Lilly and give up your duty as Master of Pemberley,” said Darcy sadly. “Is there anything more I need to know? Let me have it all at once, Edward.”

“Father, there is much, much more I wish you to know!” Edward pulled a flask from his back pocket and handed it to his father. “Take a drink, Papa and allow me to continue. I have given this a great deal of thought and have a plan ... a truly reasonable plan.”

Darcy took a few sips, closed his eyes, then took another. “Go on then. Tell us of your truly reasonable plan.”

“This plan depends on our willingness to compromise.”

“Really?” laughed Darcy. “It seems to me this plan is simply a scheme for you to get everything you want.”

“Fitzwilliam, let him continue,” urged Elizabeth, taking her husband's hand in hers.

“All right then, what is my part of the compromise.”

“What you have to do is to stay well … and fit. And, above all … to trust me.”

“Well, the well and fit part is most agreeable, but as for trusting you implicitly, … Did you not just reveal that you have been lying to us for two years, have met with Lilly for all that time without a chaperone, and have put Anne and Simon in a dreadful position? And for this, you deserve our trust?”

There was not much Edward could say to that, so he pushed on instead.

“Father, you are not yet fifty five years old and I dare say, rather fit. G-d willing, you will be the Master of Pemberley for the next twenty five years or more.”

“Actually,” interrupted Darcy, “I was rather hoping to lead a slower, more easy going life a bit sooner than that.”

“And you will be able to! I promise you. Hear me out, Papa. I have just finished a course of study that has prepared me for running Pemberley. I have earned the highest marks in the science of agriculture, land management, animal husbandry, business and accounting, and more. From the age of five I have followed you around … watching you deal with tenants and staff, examining livestock at auctions, making trades and business deals, following your investment decisions. I am not claiming to be ready or that I do not have a great deal more to learn, but I do have a solid background. You must admit that, Father.”

Darcy nodded. “Edward, you know how proud your mother and I are of all your accomplishments. But if you now choose to lead a different sort of life, what good are they to you?”

“But that is my point, Papa. I do not wish to give up anything … just to delay it! I wish to do both … to have both, and I know it can be done. Send me back to University, Father. Give me the time to learn what I need to know. It would not be as long or as costly a course of study as I do not have the intention actually practicing – that is, seeing patients. I want to do research, to help find cures and ease suffering, as Uncle Simon does. And when I return, I give you my word, I will divide my time and energies between research and Pemberley.”

Darcy shook his head. It was clear he did not think it possible!

“Father wait … before you negate it, let me clarify. I shall spend three days a week here with you, continuing my practical training, and three days with Uncle Simon. Obviously, I will be flexible. I will always be here when you need me … I promise you that. Pemberley's needs will always come first.”

“So you believe the management of Pemberley can be done in only half the time. Strange, I still find it overwhelming at times,” said Darcy.

“Forgive me Father, but you did not spend all your time at Pemberley when you were a young man. You came to London for the Season, you went to house parties, you went shooting, you visited Bingley and other friends, and stayed at Rosings for weeks at a time. Did you not spend a month in Italy with Mama after you were wed? Pemberley does not require your constant attendance. You have trusted staff that run it quite well when you are away and keep you informed of any issues. If we are both here to oversee her maintenance, Pemberley will surely thrive.”

“And what happens when I am no longer here, Edward? What then?”

“Nothing will change. I will remain devoted to her. There may be years when I must involve myself more deeply in our estate business and others, when I can spend more time on research. I shall adjust the work as life demands.”

Darcy was deeply moved by this last speech. It seemed that Edward had thought it out carefully and sensibly, in a far more mature and rational manner than he had given him credit for.

“And what of Lilly, Edward? How does she fit into this elaborate scheme of yours?” asked Elizabeth.

“We wish to marry immediately so that we can have some time together before the term begins. She will not be coming with me, Mama. I will have little time for her there and she will be lonely and bored without family and friends. We will have all the holidays together, here at Pemberley or London, and when I am done, we will come home to stay. In my old nursery if need be,” he joked.

His parents did not respond to his humor. They were still trying to imagine how this complex scheme could actually work.

“Have you thought of the time you will lose traveling back and forth every third day?” asked Darcy. “And what of Lilly ... will she be shuttled back and forth as well?

“No, indeed not, Father. That is yet another part of this grand design. Perhaps a year or so before my schooling is done, we can build Anne and Simon a comfortable home here on the estate, with a new, modern laboratory nearby. That way, there will be no need to travel and the family will be together. Simon is longing for a less hectic life as well, Papa, for since Dr. Morrison has retired, he has carried the full burden of the surgery. I believe he is ready, even now, to turn it over to a younger man.”

They were all quiet and pensive for some time. Elizabeth leaned on her elbow, then gradually lay back on the blanket to look up at the sky. She sighed heavily. “I am feeling lightheaded and completely exhausted, Edward. Papa and I will need time to discuss these ambitious plans of yours. Do not rush us. This affects us all, even your brothers and sisters.”

“Of course, Mama. I shall be patient.” He lay back as well, rolled on his side and kissed his mother's cheek. “Mama, I want to put your mind at ease. I swear to you, nothing untoward ever happened when Lilly and I were alone together. I may have kissed her hand, but that is all.”

Edward kept his word and said nothing at all to his parents concerning their decision. Three days later, Darcy informed his children that he and their mother would be visiting the Fennimores and would stay a night or two. Naturally, they all wanted to come along, but their entreaties fell on deaf ears. Edward then assured his siblings that he would find many entertaining things to occupy them, and they were finally pacified.

On their return, Edward's anxiety grew, as his parents seemed far more interested in asking questions than supplying answers. But before heading upstairs for the night, his father took a letter out of his coat pocket and handed it to him. He recognized Lilly's beautiful hand at once.


My Darling Edward,
I don't know how you did it, but you did! Our parents have decided to see us wed with their heartfelt blessings! I would not have believed it! It is too wonderful! Mama tells me we are to come to Pemberley on Saturday so that we may go to church and have the banns read. After all these years of longing, we will finally be together.
Yours forever,
Lilly


*****


The wedding was a small and understated affair, although very beautifully executed. Only family was in attendance and their surprise and joy was unmistakable. The young couple then journeyed to Grosvenor Square, where they spent two glorious weeks enjoying all that London had to offer.

Good to his word, Edward returned home to work with his father, and Lilly was thrilled to stay by Elizabeth's side, learning about everyday life at Pemberley. It was decided that she would be free to go between Pemberley and her parents' home as she wished, once Edward was back at school. Perhaps she would miss her husband a little less with these diversions.

Two months after the wedding, an express arrived from Charlotte and Mr. Collins, informing them of Lady Catherine's death. They were all to come to Rosings for the burial and the reading of the will.

It was obvious upon their arrival that Rosings had been sorely neglected these many years. The house was in a shameful state of disrepair and the grounds were completely overgrown. But it was Charlotte who gave them the saddest news of all. The tenants' needs had been ignored and neglected for over twenty years, although they were, of course, expected to pay Lady Catherine her share. As a result, many of the younger generation left their plots and escaped to the city. The older farmers hung on, but were barely able to grow enough for their own tables. Rosings was in ruins!

Anne would have preferred for all the family to stay together at the Huntsford Inn, but they were far too large a group to be accommodated there. Lady Catherine's solicitor therefore arranged for the house to be cleaned and the kitchen restocked before their arrival. Nevertheless, it was a dismal place to stay, for even one night. However, having the younger generation there made it easier somehow. As they wandered through the house, Anne, Darcy and Richard had many interesting tales to tell. Elizabeth added a touch of humor with stories from her visit to the parsonage.

The large drawing room was unchanged except that it seemed darker than ever. Elizabeth went immediately to the pianoforte and sat down, as if she were about to play. Her husband followed her.

“Mr. Darcy, have you come all this way to frighten me?” she asked, teasingly.

“No indeed,” said Darcy, looking lovingly into her very fine eyes. “I've come to flirt with you and to distract you from my aunt's offensive remarks. Sadly, you did not see that at the time.”

“Well, that is a story I wish to hear,” said Edward, coming to stand beside his father with Lilly on his arm.”

“It is a story your mother and I have kept secret for low these many years, but now is perhaps a good time to tell it.”

“Fitzwilliam!” shouted Elizabeth, “there is no need to tell such a silly, inconsequential story … surely.”

“I disagree, my love. It is a story of perseverance and unshakeable love. You see, I proposed to your mother at the parsonage that Easter that Richard and I were here, … but she refused me. Happily, I was given a second chance.”

There were two people present who knew of this embarrassing event, but most of the family, especially the Matlocks, were flabbergasted! The thought of Fitzwilliam Darcy's hand being refused by any woman was unthinkable! When Darcy started to laugh, the mood changed and everyone joined him. “So you see, there is a fine moral to this story. When it comes to love, persevere, despite the odds.” Here he raised his glass to his son and smiled.

Anne now came to sit beside Elizabeth on the piano bench and stroked the fine wooden finish and glossy keys. “I believe this is still a very fine instrument … out of tune, no doubt, but very fine indeed. I was never permitted to play it, and would like to have it for my own. What do you say, Georgiana? Will it travel well, do you think?

Before Georgiana could answer, Darcy put his arm around Anne's shoulder. “Anne, dearest, we do not yet know the terms of the will. Let us wait.”

“Yes, I shall wait. However, there is one item I intend to secure from this house and will not be prevented from taking it. It is the portrait of my father that hangs in the dining room. I have longed to have it ever since I left Rosings, but was too frightened to come and fetch it.”

“It shall be yours, my love, no matter what the will may say. We shall purchase it back if need be. I shall see to it,” said Simon.

*****

The funeral was a long, awkward and tedious affair. Mr. Collins was the only one to eulogize her Ladyship, but he naturally believed it his duty to spend a significant amount of time praising her fine character and good works. Everyone sat with their heads bowed and suffered through it, while some were lucky enough to fall asleep.

The church had been full, but the family were on their own when it came to laying Lady Catherine to rest. Anne was the last to cast a handful of soil upon the casket and whispered, “I wish it could have been different, Mama.” Simon squeezed her shoulder and led her away.

They arrived back in time for a light lunch, then rested in their rooms until three o'clock when the solicitor was expected. No one in the family had any idea of an inheritance so there was no tension or anxiety to be felt. They were there because they had been summoned, and that was all.

The reading of the will took less than a minute. In the end, Lady Catherine had left everything to Anne. It seems that despite her rantings about her ungrateful and selfish daughter, she had never actually changed her will! It was dated long before Anne's removal from Rosings and the solicitor assured them there was no other. Everyone was surprised, but pleased. It was right and proper.

Anne was overwhelmed and not necessarily happy with the outcome until she realized what the sale of Rosings could mean for her family. Funding Simon and Edward's research came to mind immediately.

Later that evening, when the family was gathered before dinner – the last they would ever have at Rosings – Anne and Simon approached Darcy with a request.

“Fitzwilliam, may we burden you with yet another task on our behalf? We would like you to find a buyer for Rosings who will take it upon himself to restore it, and to partner with our tenants for the benefit of all. I do not wish to leave a legacy of misery for the people of this estate. You, of all people will know how to accomplish this. It is asking a great deal, I know, but Simon and I know so little about such matters. We are already beholden to you and Elizabeth for so much. We will add this to our list.”

“You are not beholden to us for simply loving you and helping where we can,” said Darcy with emotion.

“Nevertheless, we wish to acknowledge all the times your caring has changed our lives.” Anne turned to her husband and smiled, then continued.

“First, we would like to thank Elizabeth for fainting on Crestwood Lane. We would never have been introduced otherwise. Second, I thank you Elizabeth for keeping my secret for as long as you did. And you, Fitzwilliam for forgiving me for all I put you through. You saved me by bringing me to Juliana and Aunt Helen, you provided me with the very best defense at the hearing, you gave us an unforgettable wedding and you helped us find a home. Now that we are contemplating its sale, we have become aware of your incredible generosity. But most of all, we thank you for loving Lilly as much as you do. It is wonderful to know that my daughter's in laws love her as much as we love their son.”

It was at that moment that the dinner bell rang, and it was a good thing …
for there was not a dry eye in the house.

By the time Lilly became the Mistress of Pemberley, she and Edward had been married for twenty years. She had become an integral part of life at Pemberley and no one even thought to question her parentage. She was a Fennimore, and that was all. From the beginning, very few people knew the circumstances of Lilly's birth and those that did were in no way eager to cause any harm with the knowledge of it. Edward and Lilly became highly respected and admired, following in the footsteps of the Darcys before them, and the Darcys before them. And Pemberley continued to prosper.
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Dearest Anne Book 2 Final Chapter # 18

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