A Father’s Sins: A Pride & Prejudice Variation
Men of Derbyshire – Book One
Mr. George Darcy, father of an illegitimate child raised by his steward, Mr. Wickham, agreed with his wife, Anne, that the firstborn son of their marriage would be heir to Pemberley. However, Mr. Darcy loved his eldest son, George Wickham, and indulged him by bringing him to Pemberley to live after the death of his wife. His heir, Fitzwilliam Darcy, paid a heavy price for this decision.
Mr. Thomas Bennet, an educated gentleman and father of five daughters, favored his second born, Elizabeth. Unexpectedly, his wife gave birth to a son and heir. Mr. Bennet, at the persistent insistence of his wife, chose not to have his youngest children vaccinated for smallpox. When the plague hits Longbourn it devastated their family. Elizabeth paid the heaviest price for this decision of her father.
What happens when Darcy and Elizabeth meet? Will they be able to overcome the consequences of the choices their fathers made? What happens when George Wickham, the Fitzwilliam family, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, and Mr. Collins come to Meryton? Will love have a chance?
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November 11, 1805 – Hatchards Book Shop, Piccadilly
Twenty-one year old Fitzwilliam Darcy perused the tall shelves, looking for an intriguing title to add to his growing personal library. The selections appeared endless. Hatchards, one of the more established booksellers in London, had shelves upon shelves filled with first editions and copies of modern and ancient-language manuscripts. Stacks were carefully arranged and displayed on tables to draw the reader’s attention. Carefully studying the gold-stamped spines on the leather volumes, he became aware of a melodic voice repeating the words, “they are not to be found”, “they are not to be found”, with a variation once in a while of “no, they are not to be found”.
“I wonder what the lady is looking for,” the young man thought. It was rather an odd section of the store to find a female and her voice sounded quite youthful. Unable to stifle his curiosity, he walked to the end of the aisle and peeked around the corner.
He was correct; she was young, possibly in her thirteenth or fourteenth year. Slight of stature, with long, wavy, chocolate-brown hair, she was extended up on her toes with her arms outstretched and her small fingertips trying to reach the top shelf.
“Miss, may I be of some assistance?”
She was so focused on her search, his deep baritone voice startled her and she nearly toppled over. With her hand to her chest, she dropped her heels back to the ground and glanced at the handsome gentleman. Tall, with dark, wavy hair and dark eyes, he was smiling slightly as he stepped closer. She returned his smile with a delightful twinkle in her hazel eyes. “Unless you can miraculously extend my height or shorten the shelves, I am unsure how you may be of help, sir”.
Delighted with her countenance and her wit, Darcy did something completely outside his character; he proceeded to converse with a complete stranger. Her clothing proclaimed her, not of the first circle, but certainly a young, gently-born miss; even though not of his sphere. He had finished his first season, which his peers referred to as the “marriage mart” and had become used to ladies of every age, including those far too young to be “out”, and their mothers preening and prancing around him trying to attract his attention. This girl did nothing of the sort. “I am terribly sorry, Miss, that I am unable to do either of those tasks.” He paused and put his finger to the side of his cheek as if in deep thought. “However, if you would tell me which volume you are so diligently searching for, I would be pleased to help you in your search.”
“Thank you, kind sir.” Removing a small scrap of paper from her reticule, she read off the journals of four explorers: George Vancouver and his discovery of the North Pacific Ocean, the voyages of Captain James Cook, and Meriwether Lewis and William Clark of the American expedition. “Do you know where I might find any of these books?”
“Yes, miss, I do know of these writings.” Again, he paused as if in thought.
“Sir, are you uncertain as to how to tell me their location?” She raised one eyebrow and smiled again. Looking closer at the man, she found him to have such a pleasant face. Relaxed and contented.
He looked down at her and his smile grew. For someone so young, her eyes sparkled with life and joy. “The first books you asked for, the journals of Vancouver, I have read myself. They are located…” reaching up, he easily found the three volumes from the top shelf just an arm length from where he was standing …“here”. Before he handed them to her, he turned back to the young girl to get her attention. “Nonetheless, I am saddened to tell you that the journals of Captain Cook and those of the American adventurers have not yet been published. I, too, am anticipating their arrival. I do believe that Mr. Lewis and Mr. Clark have yet to finish their expedition, so it might be a length of time before we are able to read of their activities.” He bowed slightly, “I am sorry to disappoint.”
“Please do not be concerned.” The young lady reached for the three books that were in his hands. “I so enjoy learning of different parts of the world and have a longing to travel to all the remote places I read about. My father teases that I would rather have geography books and old maps than ribbons. He knows me well.” She still held out her hands, but he refused to place the volumes there. Instead, he turned and walked up to the shop assistant and set the books on the counter.
When the owner saw the man standing at the counter, he quickly pushed the assistant to the side and inquired of Mr. Darcy how he might help him. “Please wrap these up for the young miss.” Without thought as to the propriety of the situation, he proceeded with the transaction as he would with his 9-year-old sister, Georgiana.
“Sir!” interjected the girl, quickly glancing toward the door to see if her uncle’s maid, who accompanied her to the store, noticed the exchange. “I am prepared to settle my own account.” Turning to the proprietor, she directed, “Before they are wrapped, if I may, I would be most pleased to record my name and today’s date on the inside, as I want all to know that they belong to me.” Her brilliant smile moved the man to action. While the man obtained quill and ink, Darcy remained at her side. Carefully and methodically, she wrote in a lovely swirl, “Elizabeth Anne Bennet – November 11 in the year 1805.”
As the owner, after waiting for the ink to dry, wrapped and tied the books, the two young people stood in silence, he thinking, “her name is Elizabeth Bennet”, and she thinking, “he is Mr. Darcy.”
One year to the day later – November 11, 1806
Thomas Bennet stood and shook with rage. “Pack your things and go!” His face purple with heightened emotions, he pointed his index finger to his once beloved daughter, Elizabeth, and shouted, “I have never been as disappointed in another human soul in my entire life as I am with you, Elizabeth Anne!” He turned to leave his young son’s room. Glancing back from the doorway, his pain and grief poured out of him as he shouted once more at her, “You have stolen my future, my dreams, and my family from me and I NEVER want to see your face again!”
The grief Elizabeth felt as she watched her father storm away was almost more than she could endure. Head bowed, tears ran down her cheeks, dropping into a puddle on her lap. Turning to her dear little brother, his lifeless body still on the bed, she gathered him to her 15-year-old breast to snuggle one last time. She had done all she knew to do for the fever, the pain, and the pustules infecting her brother and three younger sisters. With no apothecary to lend them aid, the nursing had fallen to her. Elizabeth’s older sister, Jane, had not the emotional fortitude to tend her siblings. Her mother had taken to her bed with a case of nerves at the first sign of the outbreak. The smallpox had devastated the small village of Longbourn and the surrounding area. While in London visiting their Uncle and Aunt Gardiner, the two oldest Bennet siblings had been inoculated with the vaccine, developed over 10 years before by Dr. Edward Jenner, but the single pox scar left on Elizabeth’s right temple persuaded Mrs. Bennet to not allow her youngest three daughters, Mary, Kitty and Lydia, and her only son and heir, Thomas James Bennet to receive the needed medicine. Mrs. Bennet would do anything to not have her most precious offspring marred by such scarring. Satirical cartoons depicting people turning into animals after receiving the vaccine fed her fears. How senseless that had been! Her husband, always longing for peace, to the exclusion of all rational thought, went along with the constantly expressed opinions of his wife. Her father’s blame for something that Elizabeth was unable to control added to the agony in her heart for her beloved little brother. To lose little Thomas, her dear sisters, and many of her friends and acquaintances in such a short period was a devastating blow. Then, to have her father unfairly place the blame on her young shoulders was a weight she did not think she was able to bear.
Descending the stairs to the hallway, Elizabeth noticed her sister, Jane, hovering in the doorway of the front parlor. Tears streamed down Jane’s face as she wordlessly transmitted the pain and anguish for all they were losing that day. The orders from their father had been clear. Not a word to Elizabeth. No acknowledgement that she existed. Elizabeth gathered her small valise containing her meager possessions and turned to the door.
Hill, the Bennet’s longtime butler, took the valise from Elizabeth’s small hands. He handed her a sealed letter and then reached into his pockets to retrieve a few shillings that always jingled there. Pressing them into Elizabeth’s hands, he sighed deeply, “I only wish it were more, Miss.” His beloved Elizabeth glanced up and gave him a tearful smile. “It should see you to your uncle’s house in Cheapside.” He continued, “May God be with you.”
Reaching back, Elizabeth removed the garnet necklace that had been a gift from her father. She dropped it into Hill’s hands. With a final sob, Elizabeth Anne Bennet walked away from her home, not looking back.
November 11, 1806 – later that same day
Pemberley Chapel, Derbyshire
The young man stood in front of the family crypt in the chapel, his head hanging in silent grief; his ten-year-old sister crying silently beside him. It had been unexpected, their father’s death. The pain of their loss was sharpened by the whispers from their neighbors in the chapel, from the servants that wandered through the hallways and rooms of their home, and from the distant Darcy family that came at the first news of distress. “Who will be the new master of Pemberley?”
Running his long fingers over the name engraved on the tomb next to the newly opened vault, he read aloud, “Anne Fitzwilliam Darcy”. Before the week was out, the name “George Adam Darcy” would be carved next to his neighbor. Truly, they were now closer in death than Fitzwilliam Darcy had ever seen them in life.
“Come, dear Georgie, let us return.” His little sister remained unmoved. He bent and lifted her, holding her close, carrying her to the carriage that waited outside the chapel. He did not see the craftsmen waiting to finish their job. Nor did he see the other mourners gathered in clumps, their own eyes trained on Mr. Darcy’s second son. But, he heard the whispers. “Who will be the new master of Pemberley?”