March 20, 1837
Twenty-five years later
“Mama, tell me you did not really wear that!” Beth Darcy giggled in the blue saloon of Pemberley.
“Yes, the rules had not been updated yet,” Elizabeth laughed. “And I had your grandmother and your great aunt Catherine attempting to help me.”
Darcy smiled from the doorway. He could not see his wife’s face, but he could imagine her expression.
“And you performed perfectly,” his mother-in-law called from across the room where she assisted another grandchild with embroidery.
“I still remember Anne’s curtsy,” Lady Catherine, present for her yearly visit, sniffed into a handkerchief. “It was just after she married—such a beautiful bride, you will recall Mrs. Bennet.”
“Indeed,” the other woman answered. “I have never seen love blossom a woman the way it did for Mrs. Marshall.”
“I am not wearing the feathers,” Beth said stubbornly.
“You have no choice,” Susanna, Jane’s daughter said. “Do you not remember from Nan?”
“As if I paid attention to Nan’s curtsy,” Beth laughed.
Darcy knocked on the doorframe. “I was told a dance partner was needed.”
“Papa,” Beth cried. “Here, save me from talk of lace and feathers.”
Darcy entered, laughing. “Am I to be your sacrifice then? Surely you know my presence does nothing to stop the chatter.”
“Behave, my love,” Elizabeth teased as she sat at the pianoforte.
Darcy opened his arms for his daughter to take as they went through the steps of a dance. “If you do not want the presentation, you do not have to have one,” he whispered to Beth.
She sighed. “I do want it. I do want to enjoy Society. I just find it ridiculous to dress that way. I would want a greater choice in my attire.”
“Ah,” Darcy nodded. “You do not like the false mask you must wear.”
“No,” she hastened to agree. “Nan never seemed to have that problem and the boys can act however they chose.”
“I hope you think I raised your brothers with more honour than to act merely however they please.”
“Oh, I did not mean it that way!” Beth cried and almost tread on Darcy’s foot.
“Darling, I would suggest you be yourself instead of snuffing your light. Your mother and I only wish you to be happy. You have the support of all your family.” Mrs. Bennet and Lady Catherine argued over a certain stitch. “Your very large and loud family,” Darcy added with a laugh.
“Will anyone see me with such a large and notorious family?”
Her question was not unwarranted. After Darcy regained control of Pemberley, Society turned him into something of rags to riches story, attracting more attention than ever. He and Elizabeth had six children and adopted a half a dozen more. At his school they were fondly known as Mama and Papa Darcy, and so it felt he had fathered a hundred. The Bingleys had ten children. Richard had married Lady Aurora and retired from military life. His elder brother never married and so Richard would one day inherit the earldom, then pass it to his own son. Georgiana married a local landowner who did not care about who her father was. She had three children and was now happier than Darcy ever imagined she could be. Anne had married Alexander Marshall, meeting at Darcy and Elizabeth’s wedding. The marriage had made Anne robust, and she gave birth to four large and lusty sons. To say nothing of Elizabeth’s other sisters who married and had a brood of several children each. When they all gathered together for holidays, it was easy to be lost in the crowd.
“Beth, I spent most of my life before meeting your mother trying to be invisible. I cannot say I understand how you feel, desiring to be noticed, but I will say that the right people will notice you either way. Be the lively, caring, sweet-tempered girl I know you to be and you will do well in life.”
His daughter smiled up at him. “And do you have any words of wisdom on how to walk backwards in a train that’s ten feet long?”
Darcy laughed. “Ah, no. For that, you must ask your mother.”
“I knew you kept her around for some reason,” Beth rolled her eyes as she teased.
The music came to a stop, and Darcy gazed at his wife. “I will keep her forever because I am nothing without her.”
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