A Peculiar Engagement
When I first posted this story here, it was being written to be the ‘book in a book’ in my novel, Mr. Darcy’s Rival. In that book, Anne de Bourgh is an author who has published 2 novels. This one chronicled her life being engaged since birth to her cousin, Fitzwilliam Darcy. She wrote her novel with the characters’ names changed and had written it under an assumed name so no one would know the identity of those in the story.
I am now publishing A Peculiar Engagement with the correct names to make it easier to read, and have updated this chapter to reflect that as well as the changes I made for publishing. The chapters being with the events of Darcy’s visit to Rosings with Colonel Fitzwilliam the spring before he first meets Elizabeth Bennet, and then goes back to an earlier time in the lives of Anne and himself.
Chapter 1 ~
Anne de Bourgh distinctly recollected the first time she had perceived Fitzwilliam Darcy as the attractive young man he was. It was an inexplicable, sudden sensibility of his presence, his person, and the prominence he would have in her life. It moved something within her that she had never before experienced. She had trembled, despite the warmth of the room.
The young boy who occasionally stumbled over his own two feet was now tall of stature and walked with an easy manner. His former tendency to jump from being open and conversant to exhibiting a formidable shyness in a moment’s notice seemed to have found an easy balance of a more confident reserve. He no longer spoke in a voice that cracked and faltered when he was particularly anxious, but he now had a pleasant sounding, smooth voice.
Anne had known Fitzwilliam her whole life. His mother and her mother were sisters. He was her cousin, and they had been promised to each other in marriage since their births. They had what might be called a peculiar engagement.
The expectation of their marrying had been stressed daily to her from the earliest age. Just as she did not recollect the first time she met her cousin, she did not recall when her mother, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, first spoke of their future marriage. Most likely it was the day she was born, seven and twenty years ago. She was less than a year younger than her cousin, and their mothers must have imagined how wonderful it would be for their firstborn children to someday marry and join their two families and estates.
It was eleven years ago that she had felt those first stirrings of love and affection for him. With each visit since, she had waited with hope – and sometimes doubt – for him to declare his feelings and ask for her hand, thus fulfilling both their mothers’ hopes and dreams – and hers.
Anne sat mutely with her mother in the drawing room as they waited for him to arrive for his annual Easter visit. He and their mutual cousin, Richard Fitzwilliam, had made the trip together for the past three years. She wondered if this would be the year he proposed.
At the sound of horses’ hooves outside the window, the two ladies looked expectantly at each other.
“They are here,” Lady Catherine said as she rose from her chair. “I think this year he will finally ask for your hand. He will not wish to wait any longer.” It was as if her mother had heard Anne’s very thoughts.
Lady Catherine walked past her daughter and looked out the window. She used her handkerchief to wipe away a spot of dirt she noticed on the glass, and then clasped her hands. “Yes, my nephews have finally arrived! Take a few sips of your elderberry wine before they come in.”
Anne did as she was told and then leaned back. She wondered whether her mother was correct in her assumption that this would be the year. What would it mean for her to become Mrs. Darcy, Mistress of Pemberley? Would she even know what was expected of her as Mistress? What would his expectations be of her as his wife?
Her heart began to beat more forcefully as she contemplated this, and she felt a slight constriction in her throat. She took another sip of the wine.
She put the glass down at the sound of her mother’s commanding voice. “Pinch your cheeks to give them a bit more colour. You do not want Fitzwilliam to see you looking pale and sickly.”
Anne obliged, and she and her mother remained silent as they looked towards the door when they heard the men approach, the sound of their footsteps growing louder. Anne noticed her mother’s gaze had turned back to her, and she sat quietly as Lady Catherine walked over to puff up the sleeves on her dress as though she were still a child.
“Now, you are ready to see him – and for him to see you.”
Anne sighed as she wondered whether her mother would ever look upon her with love and admiration for who she was instead of the daughter who only seemed to disappoint her. The one value she possessed in her favour was that she was promised in marriage to her most illustrious cousin.
“Calm down, Anne!” Lady Catherine said as she walked into the room. “Come and let me look at you.” As Anne walked over, a look of vexation reddened her mother’s face. “How did your dress become soiled?”
Four-year-old Anne glanced down at her dress and then timidly back up to her mother. “Father and I were in the grove gathering blossoms off the tree.” She opened one hand to reveal the blossoms and lifted up a closed fist holding a single twig with a few pink flowers still attached. “Do you not think they are pretty? May I put the twig in a vase?”
“No, you may not,” her mother retorted as she snatched the twig from her daughter’s hand. A few small petals were stripped from the twig and fell to the floor.
Anne looked forlornly at the twig. “I thought it would look nice with the other flowers.” She held back the tears that threatened to escape.
“No, no, no!” Lady Catherine waved her daughter away. “These vases are for the flowers from the garden, not some twig from a tree!”
Lady Catherine looked at her husband and sent him an icy glare. “I cannot believe you encouraged her to pick this silly twig like some common tenant child when you know my sister and her family will be here any minute.”
“Remember, she is but a little girl, and in addition, I am certain your sister would appreciate it,” Sir Lewis retorted.
His wife shook her head as she rang the bell for the maid. “This is not to be borne! Now that Anne’s dress is soiled, she must change into something else!” When the maid arrived, Lady Catherine instructed her to take her daughter upstairs to change into another dress. “She shall wear the light blue dress with embroidered flowers on the sleeve.”
The maid nodded in acknowledgment and led Anne to her room. The young girl was subdued as she walked through the halls of the large de Bourgh family estate, looking down occasionally at the flowers she still held tightly in her hand.
Rosings Park was a three-story stone-faced edifice with large windows; ivy climbed up the sides in several places. Anne often liked to think of it as a castle, due to the many tall brick chimneys and the single round turret that projected upwards on the west end. The majestic manor stood on a slight ridge and faced full north towards a tree-laden grove, which was where she and her father had just been.
When Anne returned downstairs in a clean dress, she held the blossoms tightly in her fisted hand so her mother would not see them. She did not want her to take them away from her.
Lady Catherine called her over to inspect her appearance. She eyed her from head to toe, and then let out a sigh, slowly shaking her head. “I suppose that will do.”
Anne’s father scowled and walked indignantly but quietly to the window. He braced his hands on the sill, leaning over slightly, as he gazed through narrow eyes at the garden below.
The sculpted garden was Lady Catherine’s pride and joy, extending from the front of the manor to the grove, and to the west, where it met the park. Beyond it were the distant woods, dense with evergreens, beech, oak, and yew trees.
To the south of the manor were gentle rolling hills that edged the small village of Hunsford and extended off into the distance. It was in this small village that the de Bourgh family had a high standing. Many in the village were tenants on Rosings property or servants in the manor.
Anne joined her father at the window and stepped up on her toes so she could peer out. He gently patted her shoulder. “You look nice, Anne.” He smiled down at her, and she smiled back.
Anne took in a shaky breath. “Thank you.”
They stood silently together. Anne kept her eyes fixed on the grove, where many trees were boasting a variety of coloured blossoms. She loved this time of the year, when all the flowers began to bloom.
At length, Sir Lewis spotted the carriage making the turn in the road towards Rosings and pointed it out to his daughter. “I believe they are here. Are you ready to greet them?”
Anne nodded excitedly and took his hand as she watched the carriage approach. “Do you think Fitzwilliam will like me?” she asked.
“I am certain he will,” her father replied.
“I hope so,” she said. In her eagerness and impatience, she began to bounce up and down on her heels.
“Stand still, Anne,” her father said softly. “Remember to behave in your best ladylike manner.” He laughed and patted her on the head. “We do not want you out of breath before they even see you.”
Anne suddenly thought of her flowers and opened her hand slowly. She looked at them in dismay. They were now crumpled, and some were darkening around the edges. She carefully picked up a few and looked at her mother, who had her eyes fixed on the door and seemed impatient for the Darcy family to be announced.
When they heard footsteps approaching, Lady Catherine gave Anne a stern look. “You must be on your best behaviour, Anne. I will brook no misconduct.” She then looked at her daughter’s hands. “Why are you still holding those flowers?”
“I want to give them to Fitzwilliam,” she replied meekly.
Lady Catherine looked at Anne with lowered brows and then to her husband.
Sir Lewis walked over and placed his arm about Anne. “Was this not thoughtful of her?” he replied, directing a pointed gaze at his wife.
Anne’s mother closed her eyes and gave her head a quick shake. When she opened them, she said, “You can give him what you want, but I insist you be polite and remember to exhibit only the best manners.”
“Yes, Mother.” Anne felt a slight tremor pass through her as she wondered if she would be able to remember all she had been taught about proper manners. What if she forgot something and accidentally made a mistake?
The family was finally announced, and Anne watched her cousin and his parents with nervous curiosity as they stepped in. Fitzwilliam stood slightly behind his mother until Lady Catherine told him to come forward so she could look at him. He looked nothing like what she had imagined in those times her mother had spoken of him.
The young boy came out from behind his mother only after she encouraged him with a little nudge.
“Fitzwilliam, greet your aunt and uncle and cousin,” his mother directed.
He gave a quick bow, and as he was about to step back behind her, Anne stepped forward and held out the tiny flower blossoms.
Fitzwilliam tentatively reached out and took them. He then looked up at his mother as if he was unsure what to do.
“How sweet of you, Anne!” Mrs. Darcy said. “What do you say to the young lady, Fitzwilliam?”
He looked inquiringly at his mother and then turned to Anne. “Thank you?” It was more a question than an acknowledgment, but Anne was pleased.
“You are welcome. I picked them for you.”
She was rewarded by a half-smile from Fitzwilliam. His mother took the flowers. “I shall keep these for you, Fitzwilliam.” She then turned to Anne. “That was most thoughtful.”
The two young cousins sat down and silently watched and listened as their parents conversed. Fitzwilliam appeared interested in the things about the room, as he kept looking around him.
Anne was interested in watching her cousin. Fitzwilliam was small, and his legs – too short to reach the floor – dangled over the edge of the large chair. He held himself perfectly still, except for what seemed to be a nervous twitch in his foot. Anne watched it curiously, her head tilting one way and then another, wondering if he had an itch or possibly ants in his shoes. His chubby fingers began to drum the arm of the chair. Fortunately the chair was thickly padded, so there was little sound to annoy their mothers. Anne wondered if he was singing a song in his head, his fingers tapping to the rhythm. Possibly it was a cheery one his mother sang to him.
Anne’s mother never sang to her; however, her father did occasionally. Anne cherished those times he would draw her into his lap and sing. He had a deep voice that seemed to fill the whole room and wrap around her, as much as his arms did. It filled her with a sense of warmth and caring. She only wished he would do it more often, but he usually reserved it for times when his wife was away, as if she would not tolerate such affection. When his song finished, he would send his daughter off with a kiss on the top of her head and a soft, “I love you, precious.”
She never heard those words from her mother. The only expression of praise she ever heard from her was, “Remember who you are, Anne. You shall always be a lady of the highest circles.”
Anne turned back to study her father and uncle who, although not directly related save by matrimony, were similar in height and build. They were both tall, and years of eating well had rounded out their forms. They had hearty laughs that seemed to come from deep within. The one main difference between the two was that her Uncle Henry had a full head of dark, curly hair, while her father had lost most of his.
After visiting a short while, the gentlemen politely excused themselves, giving their wives the opportunity to chat without interruption. As soon as the men quit the room, Anne’s mother and aunt joyfully began plotting out the nuptials of their firstborns, and Anne began to examine the differences between them. Despite being sisters, the two ladies were fairly dissimilar in appearance. Lady Catherine was tall and held herself erect, her chin jutting out. Her eyes peered out beneath arching brows, with one brow lifted higher than the other when she gave her opinion, which was done frequently. Lady Anne was shorter and had been graced with softer features in her face and figure. She had a more serene look and smiled more readily than her sister.
Anne suddenly realized her mother was addressing her.
“Anne, your aunt and I wish to be alone to speak about a few things. You and Fitzwilliam will go to the nursery with your nannies.”
“Yes, Mother,” Anne replied, eager to leave. She looked forward to showing her cousin the nursery, where she spent much of her time playing. The two cousins walked down a long, wide hallway with wooden floors that were polished to a brilliant shine. Several long area rugs covered the floor and cushioned the walk along the way. Paintings lining the hallway were mostly of the serene English countryside. Anne enjoyed looking up at them, often pausing to imagine what may have happened there or who would have lived nearby. There was one painting in particular that was her favourite, and each time she walked past it she wished she could step right into it.
In it, a stone bridge arched across a winding brook. A tree filled with pink blossoms stood on one side of the bank, leaning over the water as if to admire its reflection. A small cottage was tucked behind a tree on the other side of the brook, and a rugged hill stood watch over the tranquil scene. She thought it would be a wonderful place to live. The people who lived there would be kind, and she would be considered pretty by everyone who knew her. The pink blossoms on the tree would remain all year, just as they did in the painting.
At the end of the hallway, they took the stairway up to the second floor. Another short walk down the hallway brought them to the nursery, which was spacious and filled with books and toys. Anne loved books, and when her nanny read to her, she could vividly picture every detail in her mind. She would even add additional elements to the story in her thoughts.
It was here in the nursery that Anne first thought up her own stories. With no companion to play with her, she created imaginary friends who made her life more interesting, more tolerable, and definitely more pleasant.
They stepped in and Anne went directly to a shelf and pulled out two dolls.
“Here,” Anne said, as she shoved a boy doll towards her cousin. “We are going to play that we are a family. You are the father.” She then proceeded to inform him exactly what she wished for him to do.
He looked down at the limp doll his cousin held out to him and shook his head resolutely. “I do not play with dolls.” He walked over to a small satchel his nanny had carried in. As he opened it, he said, “Dolls are for girls.” He pulled out some wooden soldiers. “I shall play with these.”
Anne pouted and braced her hands on her hips. “Your soldiers are dolls,” she said in a teasing manner.
He frowned at her, but quickly looked away. “No, it is not the same. I am pretending that I am at war, not playing house.”
Anne raised a single brow, like her mother did. She believed many a marriage might be like a war, with battles being fought every day. She thought it curious that he had spoken his objection so simply, without raising his voice or getting angry.
She often heard arguments between her mother and father. When her mother felt strongly about something, she would not listen to any other opinion. Her father was a kind and gentle man; he always clearly expressed his view, even in glaring contradiction to that of his wife, and then usually allowed Lady Catherine to do as she pleased, submission being preferable to conflict.
They each played silently and separately, speaking only briefly to each other. At length, Anne and her cousin had an argument, one that she provoked.
“Come, Fitzwilliam, you must get ready for the ball.” Anne bounced her lady doll as she spoke, and then brought the gentlemen doll up alongside.
“You are too young to go to a ball, Anne.”
She gave him a sidelong glance. “But I can wear a pretty dress, and everyone will tell me I am the most beautiful lady there.” She looked longingly at her doll and then reached up to smooth her own wiry hair. “I think it would be so much fun to dance.” She bit her lip and then added archly, “I would dance with every gentleman there!” Anne tilted her head. “Would you like to dance at a ball?”
Fitzwilliam shook his head decisively. “I think it would be more fun to go outside and kick a ball.” He then turned back to play with his soldiers.
Anne frowned, but looked at her cousin curiously. She had learned at a young age that she could not argue with her parents – particularly her mother – without suffering dreadful consequences. She had just made the pleasant discovery, however, that she had no reason to fear arguing with her cousin. He did not get angry at her, and there were times she believed he actually enjoyed a good disagreement.
She watched him play for a while and finally asked, “Do you know that one day we are going to get married? If we went to a ball, would you want to dance with me?”
She watched Fitzwilliam’s shoulders rise and fall slowly. He stood still for a few moments still facing away from her. She waited for him to answer.
He slowly turned around, and his eyes were cast to the ground. Anne noticed his cheeks were pink and his eyes narrowed. When he finally glanced up, it seemed to her that he was trying to work something out.
He finally replied, “Yes, I would dance with you.”
It was not what she wanted to hear, but it would suffice for the moment.
That day was the first clear memory she had of her cousin.