In her return to Pemberley, with the excitement and business attendant on the weeks leading up to her lying-in, Elizabeth had rather naturally forgotten to think about Lady Catherine de Bourgh. It was not the pleasantest prospect, and having been exposed to rather too much of the lady’s arrogance and her dictatorial ways during the London sojourn, Elizabeth might be forgiven for a powerful wish that she not be required to be in the company of her husband’s aunt again for some considerable span of time.
Darcy’s feelings were not widely different. He knew his duty to his family and his connections; he wished that all related to him should be happy and respectable, as far as possible. Yet there is no denying that time spent in his aunt’s company was penitential. That was why, on the annual courtesy visits to Rosings that could not be avoided without endless remonstrations and repercussions, he had always made sure to travel with his cousin, the equable Colonel Fitzwilliam, whose calm, judicious presence did much to make the visits endurable.
Having attended to his obligations, as he felt, by escorting Lady Catherine and her daughter to London, and going through the comedy and charade of that not-so-young lady’s presentation at court, Darcy was disposed to be glad to see the back of them both, and to retire to the peace and happy domesticity of his own portion of paradise, with Elizabeth at Pemberley.
Both Darcy or Elizabeth had been troubled, on the London visit, to notice an obvious adventurer, Maurice Townley, hovering about Lady Catherine and her daughter, and Darcy had done what he could about it. He had taken pains to discover who Townley was, and to warn his aunt about him in the strongest terms. There was no more to be done: both Lady Catherine and Anne were of age and sound mind, and ought to be proof against fortune hunters. When the news came, taking wings as such gossip always does, that Maurice Townley had followed his new friends to Rosings and was making an extended visit there, Darcy had shrugged his shoulders, fired off one last letter to his aunt, counseling caution, and let the matter rest there.
To try to dictate to Lady Catherine, was surely an exercise in futility, and Darcy would have no part of it. If she liked to be a fool and entertain a fortune-hunter in her own house, Darcy could only thank Heaven that he was not the master of that house. He was not called upon to be politely indifferent to the sight of Maurice Townley filling his belly with an autumn’s worth of fine dinners at Rosings. If the prattle and flattery of a fop was the entertainment Lady Catherine required and was willing to pay for, it was outside Darcy’s purview.
Nor was it wonderful that his entire mind and heart were taken up with other concerns, as the time approached for his wife’s first accouchement. And on a crisp autumn day, when those leaves that by nature turned into soft red and gold colours were displaying themselves to full advantage, the event was accomplished. After some anxious hours, which Darcy never cared to remember in after years, his first son was put into his arms, a fine healthy red-faced chap, held wrapped in a cocoon of blankets by Mrs. Reynolds, whose heartfelt look of delight was only a reflection of Darcy’s own.
“A fine fellow, sir, and eight pounds if he’s an ounce!”
“Only eight pounds?” he exclaimed. “Is that not small?”
“It’s a fine weight in children!” Georgiana answered, from Elizabeth’s bedside.
“He seemed extremely large to me,” came Elizabeth’s voice wearily from behind the curtains.
Darcy turned pale, and hastily handed the infant back to Mrs. Reynolds. “May I see her?” he asked the doctor hoarsely.
“Certainly, sir. Your wife is doing as well as any healthy young woman in like circumstance may be expected to do, and you may visit with her for a few moments if you take care not to tire her,” said the doctor, pulling aside the curtains. “We may safely leave them alone for a little,” he nodded to Georgiana, Mrs. Reynolds, and the weekly nurse, and they filed out, to attend to Master Fitzwilliam’s first washing.
What raptures and tears of relief the young couple shared, we may leave for their privacy and our imagination; but certain it was that Elizabeth made a steady improvement, growing stronger day by day, and not suffering any of the dangerous after-effects only too often attendant on confinements, in houses both great and small.
So rapid was her recovery, that she was up for breakfast after only ten days in bed, sitting at table opposite her husband, smiling into his eyes over the buttered-eggs, chops, and toasted bread.
“The little man is asleep,” Elizabeth announced. “Nurse thinks he may sleep all night in another week or so. It is hard to believe, given the size of Pemberley, that he can be heard all over the house.”
“That he can,” said Darcy admiringly. “Clear to Lambton, I’m sure.”
Letters were brought in, and the young Darcys perused them rather negligently.
“From Jane,” observed Elizabeth, “she hopes to come and see the prodigy before the weather turns cold. I know she wanted so much to be here, only little Eliza was teething.”
“Mm,” said Darcy absently.
“Darcy! What are you reading? I don’t believe you heard a word I said. Who is my rival now? Your man of business?”
Darcy laid down his letter. “Lady Catherine de Bourgh,” he said deliberately. “Herself.”
“Lady Catherine! And what can she have to say?”
“Only some very aweful news, to be sure.”
Elizabeth saw by his expression that something really was amiss. “Well?” she asked quietly.
“Anne marries Mr. Townley.”
“Yes she did though. By this account, it is already concluded. He was at Rosings long enough to be married as a member of the parish, and Mr. Collins made no objection, and performed the ceremony himself.”
“Anne married! But – is he not penniless? With they live at Rosings? Will Lady Catherine lose her daughter?”
“I can hardly tell about these matters, Elizabeth. The letter is little more than an announcement of the fact. But your curiosity will not be racked for long.”
“What do you mean?” she asked suspiciously.
“They mean to come to Pemberley for their wedding-journey. Newlyweds, Lady Catherine and all.”
Elizabeth fell back limply in her seat with astonishment.
“I have made you ill! Let me fetch you water – I will ring for your maid.”
“No, no, nonsense, Mr. Darcy. I am not such a frail creature as that. Only I did think we were safe from your aunt for a sixmonth at least,” she complained.
“No such thing, apparently. They were leaving at once, and will, I reckon, be here – tomorrow. Lady Catherine de Bourgh and Mr. and Mrs. Maurice Townley. By heaven!”
“Not by heaven at all,” his wife replied tartly.
“Well, at least you will be out of the mischief. We shall say you are still in confinement by doctor’s orders, and must not be disturbed.”
“Are you mad?” she said incredulously. “Lady Catherine is perfectly capable of marching into my sick-room, and inspecting the nursery with the bride in tow, rigged up in satin – and such a bride!”
“All very well for you,” her husband returned. “I will have Maurice Townley to my share.”
Elizabeth lifted up her fine dark eyes.
“He can fish. I’d not put him on one of my mounts for a fortune,” he said grimly.
A cry was heard from above and both parents smiled.
“I must go feed him,” said Elizabeth importantly. “You may come upstairs with me if you like.”
“If you’re certain I won’t be in the way,” he said diffidently. “I must say the sight of you with the boy is the loveliest thing I’ve ever seen in my life.”
“I think you had better. We are not likely to have time for such private joys after the infliction. Still, it will be some compensation, and possible amusement, to observe how the new Mrs. Townley comports herself.”
“And how Lady Catherine likes it.”
They mounted the broad grand stairs together, hand in hand.