To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
William Shakespeare, Macbeth
Darcy grew increasingly annoyed as he observed Elizabeth from across the room, sitting at the pianoforte, talking privately with his cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam. How is it that she will talk so freely in that familiar way with him? She must know that he cannot offer for her, as he is a second son and requires a lady with both a fortune and connections, and she knows very well that she has neither. If a gentleman’s intentions are not of significance to her, why does she so freely bestow her smiles upon him and yet ignore me? And what is my cousin about? Does he not realize that he could be raising her expectations with his undue attentions?
He nearly snorted with impatience. This is the first I have seen of her since we arrived at Rosings nearly a week ago, and she cannot spare even a glance for me, though she attends every word of his as if each one held all the éclat of a proverb.
Darcy’s aunt, Lady Catherine, was talking interminably at him, as was her wont. It could in no sense be called a conversation, for a reply was rarely needed or welcomed by the lady. He knew that the look on his face plainly expressed his feelings, but he could not find it within himself to care. Darcy tore his eyes away from the colonel and looked around at his aunt’s audience. The entire demeanour of her parson, Mr. Collins, displayed his rapt attention, whilst his wife, Charlotte, wore a look of resignation. Her daughter, his cousin Anne, her countenance insipid, revealed her disinterest, though Anne’s companion, Mrs. Jenkinson, faithfully mirrored every expression of her employer.
Finally, his aunt actually insulted Miss Bennet, informing her imperiously that she needed to practice the pianoforte with greater regularity in order to improve her performance. Lady Catherine compounded the offense by offering her, in a voice loud enough to shake the crystal, the use of the instrument in Mrs. Jenkinson’s room, saying that Miss Bennet would be in no one’s way in the servants’ wing of the house.
Darcy could stand no more. He stood to his feet, though his aunt had not broken her diatribe, and strode to stand beside the pianoforte, facing Elizabeth as well as his cousin, who sat close beside her on the pretext of turning the pages for her whilst she played.
Knowing that his attraction for Elizabeth was inappropriate for numerous reasons, Darcy had studiously avoided her whilst Colonel Fitzwilliam had visited at the parsonage each day since their arrival. Now, he would stay away from her no longer. He found it completely intolerable to watch her bestow her smiles and attentions upon another man. He knew that he could not have Elizabeth for himself, but he refused to stand by whilst Fitzwilliam monopolized her. All the women of Darcy’s acquaintance hung on his every word; Elizabeth Bennet would be no different.
Elizabeth paused and looked up at him, raising an eyebrow. “You mean to frighten me, Mr. Darcy, by coming in all this state to hear me? But I will not be alarmed though your sister does play so well. There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises with every attempt to intimidate me.”
Ah! Now I have her attention. Darcy’s face was serious, though his eyes twinkled, and he parried in answer to her feint. “I shall not say that you are mistaken, because you could not really believe me to entertain any design of alarming you, and I have had the pleasure of your acquaintance long enough to know that you find great enjoyment in occasionally professing opinions which, in fact, are not your own.” Fitzwilliam may look dashing in his regimentals, but he cannot keep up with her wit and intelligence as can I.
Elizabeth laughed aloud, and Darcy bestowed a rare, dimpled smile upon her, gauging its effect. En garde, Miss Bennet!
She looked at Colonel Fitzwilliam, her eyes sparkling with mischief. “Your cousin will give you a very pretty notion of me and teach you not to believe a word I say. I am particularly unlucky in meeting with a person so well able to expose my real character, in a part of the world where I had hoped to pass myself off with some degree of credit.”
Elizabeth turned her head with a swing of her dark curls and glanced up at Darcy. “Indeed, Mr. Darcy, it is very ungenerous of you to mention all that you knew to my disadvantage in Hertfordshire – and, give me leave to say, very impolitic too, for it is provoking me to retaliate, and such things may come out as will shock your relations to hear.”
Ah! Engagement. She does not retreat. He enjoyed the verbal fencing with her. So few women challenge me, and she is very handsome. Her eyes are beautiful. I might disregard her lack of fortune if her family were not so vulgar. “I am not afraid of you.”
It was Colonel Fitzwilliam’s turn to laugh. “Pray, let me hear what you have to accuse him of. I should like to know how he behaves among strangers.”
Elizabeth smiled at the colonel and replied, “You shall hear then – but prepare yourself for something very dreadful. The first time of my ever seeing him in Hertfordshire, you must know, was at a ball – and at this ball, what do you think he did?”
Darcy’s mouth formed a slight frown, realizing her line had changed. She smiles at him, but not at me? This will not do.
Fitzwilliam looked at Darcy in amusement as if to say he knew very well what Darcy had done.
Darcy rolled his eyes in response. Is Fitzwilliam now to play the jury of this contest?
She smiled at Darcy archly, and then returned her attention to her companion. “He danced only four dances! I am sorry to pain you – but so it was. He danced only four dances, though gentlemen were scarce, and, to my certain knowledge, more than one young lady was sitting down in want of a partner. Mr. Darcy, you cannot deny the fact,” she replied with a teasing smile as she glanced in his direction.
A simple riposte. Is this is her invitation then? Darcy then remembered that she had been one of the young ladies sitting through several dances. He also recalled what he had said of her. I wonder if she heard me say that she was merely tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me. I suppose it is of no consequence if she did hear my remark. She may as well guard her heart against those who are so far above her station. “I had not, at that time, the honour of knowing any lady in the assembly beyond my own party.”
Elizabeth tilted her head and pursed her lips for a moment. “True, and nobody can ever be introduced in a ballroom.” She turned her gaze from Darcy to his cousin. “Well, Colonel Fitzwilliam, what do I play next? My fingers await your orders.”
A forward recovery. Interesting. Darcy, disregarding her dismissal, determined to bring her eyes to his own again. He spoke quickly. “Perhaps I should have judged better had I sought an introduction, but I am ill qualified to recommend myself to strangers.”
Elizabeth glanced from Darcy to the colonel, questioning him. “Shall we ask your cousin the reason of this? Shall we ask him why a man of sense and education, who has lived in the world, is ill qualified to recommend himself to strangers?”
Fitzwilliam saw Darcy’s look of warning but ignored it completely, choosing instead to reply to Elizabeth. “I can answer your question without applying to him. It is because he will not give himself the trouble.”
Touché, Miss Bennet! And you, Fitzwilliam, would elevate yourself in her opinion by lowering me? We will see about that, thought Darcy. “I certainly have not the talent which some people possess of conversing easily with those I have never seen before. I cannot catch their tone of conversation, or appear interested in their concerns, as I often see done.” Hypocrite. You know that you are using her to make your time here more interesting, but you have no serious intentions towards her. You are willing to injure her for your own amusement.
Darcy received Elizabeth’s full attention with his remark, and her disapproval was conspicuous. “My fingers do not move over this instrument in the masterly manner which I see so many women’s do. They have not the same force or rapidity and do not produce the same expression. But then, I have always supposed it to be my own fault – because I would not take the trouble of practicing. It is not that I do not believe my fingers as capable as any other woman’s of superior execution.”
She actually agrees with my aunt’s disparaging assessment of her abilities. Insupportable! This is not the press which I expected. It is unworthy of you, Elizabeth. Darcy made a great effort and achieved a small smile. “You are perfectly right. You have employed your time much better. No one admitted to the privilege of hearing you can think anything wanting. We, neither of us, perform to strangers.”
Darcy’s pleasure in finding common ground between the two of them was short-lived as his aunt’s grating voice broke into the conversation. “What is it that you are saying? I must have my part in the conversation,” she demanded, leaving her chair and regally approaching the group at the pianoforte. Elizabeth immediately began to play again, and Lady Catherine listened with a critical air.
The grand lady’s comment to Darcy was loud enough to be heard by everyone in the room. “Miss Bennet would not play at all amiss if she practiced more and could have the advantage of a London Master. She has a very good notion of fingering, though her taste is not equal to Anne’s. Anne would have been a delightful performer had her health allowed her to learn.”
Yes, Aunt, and I suppose you would have been a true proficient had you ever troubled yourself to attempt any training at the instrument, Darcy thought, barely holding back a snort as he covered his mouth with his hand and turned his face away from her.
Lady Catherine continued to talk, instructing Elizabeth on proper fingering technique, musical execution, and taste. Advice flowed freely from her as she criticized every aspect of Elizabeth’s performance, though she could not claim the accomplishment for herself.
Elizabeth played softly as Lady Catherine’s shrill voice filled the room. She kept her eyes firmly on the music, though Darcy noticed a slight smile playing upon her lips. Whilst she appeared to bear the older lady’s remarks with equanimity, Mr. Darcy suspected that Elizabeth was more amused than offended.
How very singular. My aunt insults Elizabeth in every possible way, yet she does not take umbrage. She makes no effort to defend herself, he thought, looking at her even more closely. Salute.
Then Darcy saw that Colonel Fitzwilliam smiled as well, as if he and Elizabeth shared a private joke. Darcy could not like the intimacy of it, and he turned to the window, staring into the night to disguise his pique.
At the urging of the colonel, who stayed close by her side, Elizabeth entertained the company until Lady Catherine called for her carriage to take the Collinses and their guests back to the parsonage.
As soon as they were gone, Darcy left the room, stalking up the stairs towards his chamber, taking care to show not even the slightest reaction to the colonel’s raised eyebrow, though he had seen it clearly enough. Darcy was much too irritated to remain with his cousin for their customary drink and billiard game before retiring. He wonders what has upset me so, thought Darcy. Well, let him wonder. What is the man about, encouraging Miss Bennet to think he has serious intentions towards her? If I stay, I shall surely tell him what I think of his ill use of a respectable woman. However, I have no wish to quarrel this evening.
Darcy’s valet, who was selecting his master’s clothes for the following day, was startled as his master entered the room abruptly, well before his usual time, and slammed the door behind him.
Darcy rose the next morning determined to visit the lady to satisfy himself that she was uninjured by the colonel’s excessive attentions to her. Though Elizabeth was beneath him in wealth and social standing, he thought her the handsomest, most intelligent woman of his acquaintance and was loath to allow a member of his family to take liberties with her feelings. His pride would not allow that neither of them could control the actions of their families, so whilst he deplored the liberties his cousin took with Elizabeth as well as the discourteous manner of his aunt towards her, he in no way excused her from having the same misfortune as regarded her own connections.
No sooner had Darcy had broken his fast, than he set out in the direction of the parsonage, walking briskly. Before he reached the lane separating Rosings Park from the parsonage grounds, he heard a familiar voice call out from behind him.
“Darcy, why are you fleeing the premises as if you are being chased by the Devil himself? Wait a moment, and I shall accompany you to see the ladies.”
Darcy clenched his jaws, but remained where he was, allowing his cousin to approach him.
As the colonel stepped up beside him, he asked, “Darcy, old man, whatever is the matter with you? You failed to meet me last night, and this morning you again avoid me. Have I offended you in some way?”
Darcy fisted his hands by his sides, drawing himself up to his full, intimidating height. He turned his head to fix his unwanted companion with a stare devoid of any warmth or friendship. “Had I wanted you to attend the ladies with me, I would have waited for you this morning. I neither need nor welcome your presence.”
The colonel drew back in surprise. “This is strange indeed. Who is to bear the burden of the conversation if I am not with you? You rarely condescend to speak two words together when we are in company.”
“And you rarely cease talking when we are with the ladies,” Darcy rejoined.
“Why are you in such an ill humour?” asked Colonel Fitzwilliam, truly puzzled.
“If you must know, I am seeking to right a wrong which you have perpetrated upon Miss Elizabeth Bennet,” he answered.
“And how have I wronged Miss Bennet? I would dearly like an answer to that, Cousin,” said the colonel rather sharply.
“You have paid her undue attentions and encouraged her to think that you will offer for her hand, when you know very well that you cannot. You have neither the fortune nor the inclination to overcome such a connection,” Darcy said, folding his arms across his chest.
“Miss Bennet is a great deal wiser than you credit her. She knows of the circumstances of my birth and of my lack of the means to have designs upon her. We are friends – nothing more. And, of greater concern, when did you become the defender of unprotected maidens?” asked the colonel, with no little sarcasm.
Darcy was silent for a few moments, and then responded in a lower tone of voice. “I do not toy with the affections of gentlemen’s daughters. In fact, not too long ago, I warned a friend of mine of the same danger. He had paid such marked attentions to a lady in Hertfordshire that I was forced to intervene before he went so far that he could not in honour leave the place without making her an offer. It would have been a most inconvenient connection for him.”
“Really?” queried the colonel. “And exactly what circumstances made the lady unsuitable for your friend? Was her character questionable?”
“Not at all,” answered Darcy, more calmly. “She was lovely, kind, and gracious. Had her family not been completely beneath him, and had she any fortune at all, I would have encouraged the match. As it was, joining himself to her would have ruined him in the eyes of society. Since he could not offer for her, I advised him to remove himself to London immediately. I congratulate myself that he heeded my counsel and left straightaway, thereby avoiding injury to the lady or her reputation.”
The colonel shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other. “And you see yourself in a similar position as regards Miss Bennet and myself,” he stated, looking at the ground.
“I do,” stated Darcy, curtly.
“Then I shall part ways with you now. I shall stroll in the park whilst you continue on your mission,” said the colonel as he turned abruptly and strode away.
Upon reaching the entrance to the parsonage, Darcy realized that he might encounter a difficulty in having a private conversation of any sort with Elizabeth. How am I to speak with her without raising the interest of Mrs. Collins, her dim-witted sister, and the obsequious Mr. Collins? Mrs. Collins is altogether too observant, and Mr. Collins never pauses to draw a breath.
As the maid ushered Darcy into the drawing room, he was pleasantly surprised to find that Elizabeth was alone. From the expression on her face, Darcy surmised that her principal feeling upon seeing him was not pleasure, but curiosity.
He immediately apologized for intruding upon her solitude, stating that he had understood all the ladies to be at home.
“Do not worry yourself, Mr. Darcy. Mrs. Collins and Maria have gone on business into the village. They will return shortly,” she said, gesturing to a chair as she took a seat.
Elizabeth inquired after the party at Rosings; Darcy assured her that everyone was in perfect health, and they lapsed into silence.
Darcy sought to conquer his was agitation in the presence of the lady, but could think of nothing intelligent to say. How do I introduce the topic of my cousin without seeming officious? Why did I not think of this before I came?
To his relief, Elizabeth rescued the situation by observing, “How very suddenly you all quitted Netherfield last November, Mr. Darcy! It must have been a most agreeable surprise to Mr. Bingley to see you all after him so soon; for, if I recollect right, he went but the day before. He and his sisters were well, I hope, when you left London?”
He was most grateful for her ease in conversing but could form no rejoinder, and thus settled for, “Perfectly so, I thank you.”
he tilted her head. “I think I have understood that Mr. Bingley has not much idea of ever returning to Netherfield again?”
Darcy began to feel more confident in her company and replied, “I have never heard him say so; but it is probable that he may spend very little of his time there in future. He has many friends, and he is at a time of life when friends and engagements are continually increasing.”
Elizabeth answered, “If he means to be but little at Netherfield, it would be better for the neighbourhood that he should give up the place entirely, for then we might possibly get a settled family there. But, perhaps, Mr. Bingley did not take the house so much for the convenience of the neighbourhood as for his own, and we must expect him to keep or quit it on the same principle.”
Darcy nodded. “I should not be surprised,” he agreed, “if he were to give it up as soon as any eligible purchase offers.” He will leave Hertfordshire if I have any say in the matter, for he is in danger of making a disastrous match with your sister, and I will prevent it if I am able to do so.
After another awkward silence, Darcy glanced around and said, “This seems a very comfortable house. Lady Catherine, I believe, did a great deal to it when Mr. Collins first came to Hunsford.”
He was rewarded with a smile from Elizabeth, who said, “I believe she did – and I am sure she could not have bestowed her kindness on a more grateful object.”
Darcy looked directly into her eyes. “Mr. Collins appears very fortunate in his choice of a wife.” I was concerned that he might have had designs on you, and that your mercenary mother would force you to marry him.
Elizabeth replied, “Yes, indeed, his friends may well rejoice in his having met with one of the very few sensible women who would have accepted him or have made him happy if they had. My friend has an excellent understanding – though I am not certain that I consider her marrying Mr. Collins as the wisest thing she ever did. She seems perfectly happy, however, and in a prudential light it is certainly a very good match for her.”
His physical attraction for Elizabeth began to cloud his mind as it did on every occasion when she was playful, and he perused his shoes as he subtly turned their conversation. “It must be very agreeable to her to be settled within so easy a distance of her own family and friends.”
When she did not reply, Darcy glanced up at her and saw that she looked puzzled.
“An easy distance you call it? It is nearly fifty miles!” she exclaimed.
If I could take her into my arms and kiss that tiny frown between her eyes, I would do so. He forced his mind to obey his will and stop wandering into forbidden territory.
Darcy cleared his throat and replied, “And what is fifty miles of good road? Little more than half a day’s journey. Yes, I call it a very easy distance.” If I were in London, I could find relief from these yearnings. London is an easy distance. Perhaps I shall go tomorrow on some pretext, and I will convince my cousin to go with me. Such a plan would both solve my problem and remove him from the enticing lady before me.
Elizabeth answered with some force, “I should never have considered the distance as one of the advantages of the match. I should never have said Mrs. Collins was settled near her family.”
Her eyes flash so becomingly when she debates me. How I would like to tame that spirit! Darcy brought his mind back to the subject at hand. “It is a proof of your own attachment to Hertfordshire. Anything beyond the very neighbourhood of Longbourn, I suppose, would appear far.”
He smiled as he thought, She is so provincial. Society would devour her. If I had my preference, I would install Elizabeth in a house in London as my mistress; however, Elizabeth is a gentleman’s daughter. She would never agree to such a degradation. He sighed aloud.
Elizabeth blushed and stumbled over her words, “I do not mean to say that a woman may not be settled too near her family.” She took a breath and continued, “The far and the near must be relative, and depend on many varying circumstances. Where there is fortune to make the expenses of travelling unimportant, distance becomes no evil. But that is not the case here. Mr. and Mrs. Collins have a comfortable income, but not such a one as will allow for frequent journeys – and I am persuaded my friend would not call herself near her family under less than half the present distance.”
Darcy drew his chair nearer to Elizabeth. Perhaps if we were far enough away from her family, the connection could be borne. He said, “You cannot have a right to such very strong local attachment. You cannot have been always at Longbourn.”
Elizabeth’s face displayed her surprise at his statement, and he took a newspaper from the table, moving his chair yet a little farther from her. For a moment, he hid behind the paper, thinking, She must wonder at my meaning. I came here to disabuse her of any hope regarding an alliance with Fitzwilliam, and instead I may have encouraged her to think of marriage with me. I am an idiot.
When next he spoke, looking at her over his newspaper, his voice was considerably colder. “Are you pleased with Kent?”
As they began to converse calmly about the county, Mrs. Collins and her sister, Maria, returned. Darcy explained that he had unintentionally found Elizabeth alone, and then sat quietly for a few minutes before taking his leave.
As Darcy paused in the hallway to retrieve his coat and hat from the maid, he overheard a conversation which made him distinctly uncomfortable. He recognized the surprised voice of Charlotte Collins saying, “What can be the meaning of this? My dear Eliza, he must be in love with you, or he would never have called on us in this familiar way.”
“Charlotte,” replied Elizabeth in an exasperated tone. “I assure you that you are quite mistaken in the matter. He was forbidding and silent, not at all like a man in love.”
Darcy sighed and averted his eyes from the maid as he lingered to button his coat.
He heard Mrs. Collins speak again. “Perhaps you are right, Eliza. It is possible that he could find nothing better to do at this time of year. All field sports are over, and the pleasures of being indoors at Rosings may not prove tempting to a young man.”
Darcy could find no plausible reason to stay any longer, so he nodded to the maid and left the house, walking rapidly in the direction of his aunt’s house.
That visit established a pattern with the gentlemen who visited at Rosings. They became so enamoured of walking that nothing would satisfy them except a stroll to the parsonage each day, sometimes together, sometimes separately, and occasionally accompanied by Lady Catherine.
During those visits, which occurred at various times of the morning, Colonel Fitzwilliam displayed all the pleasure that he found in the company of the parsonage ladies, and his time with them was enjoyed by their merry party.
However, Darcy remained as he ever was – cold and silent – speaking only when absolutely necessary. Try as they might, the ladies could not explain his continued attentions to them.
When they were together, Colonel Fitzwilliam laughed at Darcy’s stupidity, which proved that Darcy was acting differently than was usual for him.
Darcy knew that Charlotte Collins wanted to believe that he held a tendre for her friend, and he certainly looked at Elizabeth a great deal, but he made certain that his countenance did not betray his admiration. He controlled his expression, thinking to appear earnest and steadfast, or showing an absence of mind.
Instead of endearing himself to Elizabeth, Darcy succeeded only in causing her initial dislike of him to flourish.
Death be not proud,
though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for, thou art not so,
For, those, whom thou think’st,
thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poor death, nor yet canst thou kill me,
From rest and sleep,
which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure, then from thee,
much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings,
and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy, or charms can make us sleep as well,
And better than thy stroke;
why swell’st thou then;
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more;
Death, thou shalt die.
Atlanta, Georgia, 2012
As Will Darcy sat beside his grandmother’s hospital bed, waiting for her to awaken, he read one of the many books he had downloaded to the e-book application on his cell phone. He glanced at her occasionally to see that she was still sleeping, occasionally mumbling as if she were conversing with her long-dead husband and two deceased sisters.
Nana Rose was Will’s best friend – the only family he had left except a few cousins in England and two in Charleston. He tried not to think of how lonely his life would be without her.
Will had become a fixture at the hospital and was on a first name basis with most of the staff who took care of his Nana Rose. The handsome young man was a source of speculation for the nurses; several of them had conversed with him regularly, and they shared the information which they gleaned from those conversations with one another. Eventually, most of the nurses knew his history quite well.
All of them knew that Nana Rose had been widowed for as long as Will could remember, and, when he had been orphaned, she had returned briefly to London and welcomed him into her home there before returning to the States, bringing Will with her.
Rose met George Darcy in Atlanta when he had toured the States as a young man seeking new investments for his family’s business. Intrigued by the charm and intelligence of the Southern beauty, Will’s grandfather had remained in the Atlanta area for a year, establishing a U.S. branch of Darcy Enterprises in the interim. During that time, he had assiduously courted Rose Broome, marrying her at the end of that year under the magnolia covered archway placed in the front of the chapel on her family’s estate near Atlanta, Georgia.
Rose and George had lived in London during the twenty-five years of their marriage, though they had traveled frequently to Atlanta to maintain an active presence in the business and visit with her family. Rose had already earned a degree in business and was climbing the corporate ladder before she ever met George Darcy, and because he respected her financial acumen, he had made her a partner in Darcy Enterprises. When he finally succumbed to a heart attack at the age of fifty-five, she had moved back to Atlanta. She had inherited The Oaks upon the death of her mother, and she chose to live there with her sisters while she remained CEO of Darcy Enterprises.
Will’s father, Geoffrey Darcy, had remained in London, living in the house his mother had given him and overseeing the business in England. By the time his father died, Geoffrey had already fallen in love with Will’s mother, Anne Fitzwilliam, and they were married the following year.
Will had been born early in their marriage, and he always enjoyed the regular visits from Nana Rose, as well as the summers he had spent with her and his aunts at The Oaks. In his mind, he had been blessed with three homes – his London home with his parents, the English country home of his mother’s parents, and The Oaks in Atlanta with Nana Rose, Aunt Laurel, and Aunt Violet.
His perfect childhood had abruptly ended twenty years earlier when he was eight years old. His parents, along with his mother’s parents, had died in a car accident in London, and most of his memories of them were dreamlike and hazy. Whenever Will looked into a mirror, he remembered flashes of a father to whom he bore a striking resemblance, and a beautiful, fair-haired mother, who seemed to wear a perpetual smile.
Will looked up from his book as a young nurse entered the room.
“Good morning, Will. Reading again?” she asked, as she went to Rose’s bedside and began to chart her vitals.
He smiled. “Yes, Amanda. You can probably guess what I’m reading.”
“Pride and Prejudice?” she answered, laughing. “Or are you reading another Austen novel or variation?”
“How can I not enjoy reading about a character who matches my description and has a name so similar to mine?” he replied.
“Did your parents name you for Fitzwilliam Darcy from Pride and Prejudice?” she asked, glancing at him.
“Of course. How could my family have resisted that temptation? Before I was born, Nana Rose traced our ancestry back several hundred years and insisted that I be named for Fitzwilliam Darcy as well as for my grandfather. We are descendants of a Darcy line in England. My name is actually William George, you know, but my dad shortened it to Will almost immediately after I was born.”
She smiled at him, saying, “At least they didn’t saddle you with Fitzwilliam. You never would have lived that down in American schools.”
Amanda knew the story of how Nana Rose had flown to London immediately after the deaths of his parents and grandparents to comfort him. Following the memorial services, she had welcomed him into her Atlanta, Georgia, home as well as her heart, lavishing attention on him and making him her first priority. Though she had maintained control of Darcy Enterprises, she had placed reputable and trustworthy people in key positions both in Atlanta and in London so that she could devote more time to her grief-stricken grandson. She had taken an active role in his education, attended all of his school programs and games, gone with him to church regularly, and instilled in him her own love of reading.
“I had a hard enough time adjusting to the American accent; I certainly didn’t need anything else to single me out for teasing. My first year here, I hardly understood anyone except Nana Rose. For some unknown reason, I’ve always loved her voice,” he replied, looking at his grandmother.
Amanda paused. “It’s wonderful to see the relationship between you and your Nana Rose. Is she the one who directed your interest to the Austen works?”
Will smiled, and his eyes became unfocused as he remembered. “Her favorite author has always been Jane Austen, and we began to read her books together during my late teens. I grew up reading the classics, as well as the Harry Potter series, the Chronicles of Narnia, and The Lord of the Rings, so I developed the habit of reaching for a good book whenever I wasn’t playing baseball or football. Reading Austen and watching the movies was something we could do together. It was her chocolate. In return, she indulged my passion for history and random knowledge by watching Jeopardy and playing Trivial Pursuit with me.” He shook his head slightly. “She was a fierce competitor, and I had to study constantly to beat her. She was wonderful with dates and inventors, going so far as to have a game designed especially for us. We named it The History Challenge, and we played it quite often.” He chuckled. “I actually think she pored over lists of important inventions while I was at school so that she could challenge me when I came home, and I know that she had the game designer
send her more question cards regularly.”
Will’s body had always been as active and agile as his mind. A straight “A” student, he had seldom been bored. After high school, he had followed in the footsteps of his parents and grandparents, double-majoring in history and business, earning his MBA, and taking control of Darcy Enterprises with guidance from his grandmother. With her constant encouragement, he had just earned a Ph.D. in history from Duke University, doing nearly all the work online and only occasionally making a trip to Durham. She had been amused and delighted when he had written his dissertation on inventors and inventions of the First and Second Industrial Revolutions, focusing on how those creative thinkers and their work had driven the economy and changed the way people lived. Though he never discussed his accomplishments with anyone, his work had been published and was beginning to garner attention in the academic world.
Abruptly, he came back into the moment. “I suppose I should go eat breakfast while you get Nana ready for the day,” he said.
Amanda nodded, a little frown of concern showing between her eyebrows. “Breakfast is the best meal the cafeteria offers. Don’t rush back, Will. Take a walk or something. You’ve been here every day for almost three weeks.”
“I’ll be in the cafeteria if you need me for anything. I’m going to make a few calls and catch up with my e-mails and messages.” Will stood to his feet and leaned over, placing a gentle kiss on his grandmother’s cheek. As he picked up his laptop case and turned to leave, he lowered his head and allowed his shoulders to slouch. Before he opened the door, however, he straightened his posture while pasting a smile on his face, thinking, Nana would expect me to keep up appearances.
Rose Darcy had developed Type II diabetes some forty years earlier, and the disease had slowly eaten away at her. By the time she had become his guardian, his grandmother had learned to take better care of herself, but the damage had already been done. After watching both of her sisters succumb to complications of the disease, Rose had worked even harder to bring her condition under control. She had been able to extend her life, but those early years of neglect had resulted in her having several episodes of congestive heart failure in addition to slowly losing her eyesight.
Because of her limitations in the past five years, Will had learned to check her blood sugar, fill her syringes with insulin, and give her the shots she needed.
As her activities had become more restricted, they had watched films of her favorite Austen books, and when her eyesight had disappeared nearly completely, Will had read the books aloud to her over and over, practicing the perfect English accent he had retained from his early childhood. He had come to love Austen’s works as much as his Nana Rose did. He smiled each time he remembered her delight in sharing the 1995 Pride and Prejudice mini-series with him. They had worn out the VHS tapes and bought DVDs as soon as they were made available. Watching period movies was something they could do together, even as she aged and her health deteriorated. He was intimately acquainted with all six of Austen’s major works, her two minor works, and her uncompleted novel, as well as most of the film adaptations, and many other period favorites, such as North and South, The Inheritance, and Wives and Daughters. Nana Rose’s favorite DVDs were always ready for him to pop into the player, and they often quoted lines to each other. It was their private game, and he took care to keep it between the two of them.
When she could no longer attend church, Will arranged for a group of her friends to come by for a weekly Bible study. The ladies took turns staying with her on Sunday mornings so that Will could continue to go, knowing that the strongest friendships he had, besides his love for Nana Rose, were with the people in his Life Group. Even so, he was a very private man.
When William returned to his grandmother’s hospital room, she was awake.
“Will, is that you?”she asked, turning her face toward the door.
He crossed the room and took her hand, pleased that she was thinking clearly and in the present day. As he glanced at her breakfast tray, he frowned.
“Yes, Nana. I just had breakfast, but I see you haven’t eaten. Aren’t you hungry? You’ll never be strong enough to go home with me if you don’t eat.”
She sniffed. “I’m not hungry. Why don’t you pop Pride and Prejudice into the DVD player? I think I would like to hear Colin Firth this morning.”
Will smiled. That’s my Nana Rose. “I’ll put in the DVD if you promise to eat while we listen.”
She patted his hand. “You’re a hard taskmaster, Will Darcy, and you strike a tough bargain, but you have me at a disadvantage.”
“So, you’ll eat while you listen?” he asked, trying not to betray his concern for her frailty.
“Yes. I know it so well that I can see it in my head,” she replied. “I hate that you insist on feeding me like I’m an infant.”
Will leaned over to kiss her forehead. “We’ve been over this a thousand times, Nana Rose. There’s more on your gown than in your stomach when you try to do it. I like helping you; you’ve always been so good to me. You took care of me, and now it’s my turn to take care of you.”
She sighed. “I know when I’m beaten. Put in the movie, and I’ll be a good girl.”
Will adjusted her bed into an upright position, and then took the DVD from its case and put it into the player. She never eats unless I’m here, because she won’t let anyone else feed her. He shook his head.
As the familiar strains of the BBC miniseries filled the room, he fed her slowly, watching the emotions play across her face in response to the story.
Nurses came and went, removing the trays, giving her medicine, and checking her vitals. They smiled at the sight of Will’s chair pulled up to the side of his grandmother’s bed, but they did not speak. All of them knew that Nana Rose was entranced by the movie, and they would not spoil whatever small pleasure she was enjoying.
As Will started to put in the second DVD, his grandmother’s primary physician, Paul Gardiner, entered the room and stopped to shake the younger man’s hand. Crossing to the hospital bed, he picked up her chart, flipping through the pages with a slight frown. “How are you today, Miss Rose?” he asked in a polite tone.
“I’m ready to go home, Paul. Will can’t sit here with me every day. He has a business to run. We can hire nurses,” she said in a voice that brooked no opposition.
The doctor chuckled. “I suppose you are well enough. I’ll discuss this with your grandson, and if everything is in order, I’ll discharge you tomorrow. Will that suit?”
Her smile lit the room. “Yes, that suits very well, though I would prefer that your discussion includes me.”
Dr. Gardiner looked at Will who nodded at him.
“All right, Miss Rose.” The doctor paused and took a deep breath. “Though you are stable for the time being, you are not well. With constant care and supervision, you may live a few more months, but eventually, your heart will give out or your kidneys will fail. Your organs will shut down one by one. It is only a question of which of your conditions will be terminal first. You will never be completely well again. I’m so sorry.” The doctor’s voice was quiet but firm.
Tears filled Will’s eyes, but he was careful to be silent.
“Then I may as well die in my own bed,” said Nana Rose in a no-nonsense tone. “I know you’ve done your best, Paul. Will, please make the necessary arrangements. I just want to go home and see the flowers bloom one last time.” She turned her face toward the window, hiding the tear tracing a path down her cheek.
He patted her hand and choked out the words, “I will.”
The doctor touched Will’s sleeve, motioning for him to follow. They left the room together, and, after closing the door behind them, stopped in the hallway to talk.
Dr. Gardiner recommended a nursing service and made an unprecedented promise to visit The Oaks twice a week. He had been Mrs. Darcy’s physician for twenty years, and he had known her for much longer than that. She held a special place in his heart.
The doctor had met Nana Rose in their church when he was a young man just graduating from high school. He had shown great intelligence, and he always worked hard to maintain high grades, but his family had been poor. Though he had won academic scholarships, he never would have been able to afford medical school had Nana Rose not supported him financially.
She was well loved with good reason.
I’ll put up two more chapters soon.