A Very Merry Christmas from us all at Austen Authors!!!
I’m delighted to bring you a special episode of the Darcy Brothers, set during the brothers’ childhood. I hope it gives you a glimpse of how life was at Pemberley before — well, let’s just say in happier times. And don’t forget to tune in next week, when Regina Jeffers will be providing another scene in the Darcy Brothers’ past.
So, without much ado, here is my special episode.
Sebastian was standing on a chair, his little nose flattened against the windowpane. “When are they coming, Mama?”
“Soon,” said Lady Anne, smiling fondly. Sebastian had awakened full of excitement this Christmas Eve, and had been waiting since early morning for his brothers to arrive at Pemberley. “Looking out of the window will not make them arrive any sooner, you know.”
“Get away from that window and return to your seat,” said Mr. Darcy, looking up from his correspondence and frowning. “You must learn to wait patiently and without fidgeting.”
Lady Anne thought that was a bit too much to expect from a six-year-old. Sebastian was eager to see his brothers. There was nothing wrong with that. Why did her husband have to make every occasion an opportunity to teach the child a lesson?
Sebastian returned slowly to the seat beside her, dragging his feet, his face a study in sullenness. He sat staring hopefully towards the window, swinging his short legs back and forth. By and by, he began to amuse himself by kicking at the small table before them, creating a rhythmic thump that seemed to compete with the only other sound in the room: the ticking of the squat mantel clock.
“Stop that noise,” said the boy’s father.
Sebastian stopped kicking the table and returened to swinging his legs back and forth.
“Here, why do you not play with your toy soldiers?” she said, handing him two wooden pieces his father had confiscated earlier.
Sebastian’s eyes brightened. He took them from her, slid to the floor and set the two soldiers opposite each other. They were both wearing red British militia uniforms, but that made no difference to the boy’s imagination. For the moment, they were enemies.
Lady Anne regarded Sebastian tenderly. He was her golden boy. She did not want to favor one son over the other, but as she watched Sebastian, his head bent over his toys, she experienced a sudden shiver – as if someone had walked over her grave. He seemed so fragile, so delicate; she could not imagine sending him off to boarding school.
The other boys were older and different, somehow. In William, she sensed a strong will and a steady purpose that would serve him well in the future. Theo had charm – a charm that would save him from any situation his mischievous nature would engender. Sebastian’s personality so far was unformed. He seemed ethereal to her, as if he was not meant long for this earth.
As if sensing her unease, he looked up towards her and laughed, his eyes full of life. Her fears fled. She was simply imagining things. It was her confinement that was to blame. It seemed to bring out her more fanciful side. Just a week ago, she had dreamt about the new baby. She had had a nightmare that she had given birth to a monster with three legs and only one arm. She had awakened sobbing and taken refuge in Mr. Darcy’s arms. He had comforted her, patting her on the shoulder and reasoning with her. Afterwards she had felt foolish. She did not want her husband to disapprove of her.
She passed her hand across her abdomen. Lady Anne knew she should not pray for this, that she should accept whatever was given to her, but now that she had an heir and a spare, she longed for a daughter. In a household of males, she needed an ally. She had been feeling melancholic lately, with the older boys gone and only Sebastian left at home. A daughter would not be sent away to school. She would stay at home and keep her mother company – that is, until the girl grew old enough to marry.
The loud clatter of a carriage rattling down the driveway put an end to her reflections. Sebastian jumped up and ran to the window. Anne followed as quickly as she physically could, wishing the weight of the baby did not make her waddle like a duck.
“I can see them, Mama!” shouted Sebastian. “Look, there’s Fish. And Theo, and there is George, too. May I go and meet them at the door, Papa, please?”
Sebastian’s excitement at the return of the boys from school seemed to infect even Mr. Darcy. There was an indulgent smile on his face. “Of course,” said his father, “and you are welcome to join me, since I am going that way, too.” He held out his arm to Anne. “Would you care to join us, my lady?”
Mr. Darcy looked younger when he smiled, almost as young as when she had first met him. She had thought him so handsome at the time, so proper. She had admired his dignified manner. Since then, she had discovered he expected a great deal from people and could be unforgiving if they did not live up to his standards. From a distance, those were good qualities, but they were difficult to live up to. She hoped the smile was a sign he was going to go easy on the boys.
Meanwhile, Sebastian could bear his parent’s slow pace no longer. He shot past them and ran out through the front door. The sound of shouting and laughter reached her, instantly cheering her. Her boys were home for the holidays.
Theo swung open the door of the carriage even before it stopped, ages before Tom the footman had reached them.
“That’s dangerous, Theo,” said Darcy. “Besides, it’s undignified.”
“I don’t give a fiddle for that,” said Theo. “I am home and I will not spend a second more in this stuffy carriage. We have been stuck in it for two whole days.”
No sooner had he stepped out on to solid ground when something small came bounding in his direction and threw itself against him, pinning him to the carriage.
“Theo, I’ve missed you so much!”
There was no doubt what – or who – it was. Sebastian, of course, all red-cheeked and wide eyed and with a gap in the front where two of his teeth were missing.
“What happened to your teeth, Seb? Did someone open your mouth at night and pull them out?”
“No, Theo,” said Seb, looking very solemn. “They just wobbled and wobbled and then they fell out by themselves.”
“I know,” said Theo, laughing. “I was joking. The same happened to me, too. It happens to everyone. It means you will soon be old enough to be breeched.”
A number of conflicting emotions flitted across Sebastian’s face. He’s such a funny little thing, thought Theo. Why can he not just be happy about it? “Will I have to go to school as well?” said Sebastian.
“Not just yet.”
“Good,” said Sebastian, “because Mama will be unhappy if we all leave her.”
Theo hadn’t thought about it that way. “Maybe they will keep you at home and engage a tutor.”
A look of relief crossed Sebastian’s face.
The footman let down the steps and opened the door and Sebastian’s attention shifted. “There’s Fish! Hello Fish.” He cast himself at Darcy, almost toppling him over, then peered inside the carriage. “And there’s George. Aren’t you coming out, George?”
“Wickham has to go home to see his parents, Seb,” said Darcy.
Sebastian’s face fell.
“Don’t worry,” said Theo. “George will be joining us later to light the Yule Log, will he not, Darcy?”
“Of course,” said Darcy, stiffly. “Wickham has always joined us for the Log lighting.”
Which wasn’t particularly friendly. Really, at times Theo despaired of Darcy. Why must he be so stuffy with George, of all people? George was really nice. He had helped Theo so much during his first term at school. Of course Darcy had also helped, in his own way, but he did not really understand how lonely Theo had felt in his first few months away from Pemberley.
“I’ll see you later, then, George?” said Theo, smiling to make up for Darcy’s stiffness.
“Of course,” said Wickham, grinning. “I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
While the footmen unloaded the luggage. Theo waved at George and turned his attention to the house. The servants were all lined up to receive them. Why hadn’t his parents exited yet?
Theo felt something cold on his nose, then on his cheek. He looked up and saw big giant snowflakes drifting down slowly. The snowflakes were beautiful, like small chunks of white candy floss coming down from the sky. “Look, Seb. It’s starting to snow.”
“Can we make a snowman? Please?”
“There isn’t enough snow yet.” Theo lifted his face up and twirled around, feeling the snow melt as it landed on his skin. “I bet you cannot swallow a snowflake.”
“I bet I can,” said Sebastian, sticking out his little tongue and waiting for a snowflake to fall onto it.
The carriage jerked forward on its way to take George to his house at the edge of the estate. Theo felt a bit sad to see him go. He saw George often at school, but now they would be separated most of the time.
Then Mama stepped from the doorway, and Theo felt a rush of love for her. He ran over to meet her, seized with a sudden longing to feel her soft cheek against his. The last moment, though, he realized she had such a large stomach he could not possibly get his arms around her. He came to a halt, confused as to what to do.
Fortunately Mama knew just what to do. She put out her hand and pulled him towards her, bending down for him to present him a kiss on the cheek.
“How did you get so fat, Mama?” he said. “Have you been eating too many sweetmeats?”
“Don’t be silly,” said Mama. “You’re going to have a little baby brother or sister.”
Like Seb. Theo grinned at her. He would love to have lots of brothers and sisters. His mother drew him close to her side and turned to say hello to Darcy.
Darcy bowed to Mama and let her ruffle his hair, but he did not kiss her. He was on his best behavior. Darcy was not like that at school, but when he came home he tried to impress his father. Well, if he wanted to be old stuffy-boots then he would just have to miss the fun.
“Welcome back, Theo,” said his father, putting his hand on Theo’s shoulder and squeezing it.
“Thank you, sir,” said Theo. He smiled into his father’s serious face and found an answering smile there. “I am happy to be home.”
Theo loved the way his father’s eyes wrinkled up when he smiled. He wished Papa would smile more often, but Theo supposed the owner of a large estate like Pemberley had a lot of things about which to worry.
It made him thankful he wasn’t the owner of a large estate and would never be. Darcy would be closeted with Papa many hours so that he could look at horrid things like ledgers and be taught how to run the estate. Even learning Latin verbs had to be better than that.
Theo didn’t have to worry about doing those things, which was the best blessing of all. He glanced towards the row of footmen flanking them and simply smiled and waved at them, receiving smiles in return.
“Come on, Seb,” he said, taking his little brother’s hand. “Let us go and see what Cook made for us. I am famished.”
Darcy watched the other boys going in and wished he could go with them, too, but the moment the younger boys left, Mr. Darcy called him to his side.
“Let us walk in together, shall we? Darcy, as the heir, you know your duty to the servants.”
It was a formal affair. The servants had lined up on both sides to greet the young master. He had been drilled in this several times, but this was the first time he had actually had to do it. He was twelve now and expected to take up more responsibility. He stopped by each of them in turn and said their names.
Finally, it was over. He gave a little sigh of relief that he had not disgraced himself by saying the wrong thing or mixing up anyone’s name. He hurried his steps so they could reach the parlor quicker. Being correct made him very thirsty and hungry.
“May I have some tea, Mama?” he said, the moment the door of the parlor closed behind them, hoping he was not expected to do something else instead.
“Of course, dearest,” said Lady Anne. “I believe Cook made you some lemon cake, your favorite.”
Lemon cake! Darcy had not had lemon cake for months. His mouth watered. He was about to sit next to his mother when his father called him over, pointing to a seat next to him.
“Well, young Darcy. I hope you’ve been behaving as you ought at school.”
“I have, sir,” said Darcy.
“I received a letter from the headmaster, and I am pleased to say his report was very favorable. I cannot say the same of George Wickham, however. He seems to have been in trouble again, more than once. Have you been keeping an eye on him, as I asked you to do?”
How could he make his father understand that keeping an eye on Wickham was impossible? What was he supposed to do, sneak into the younger boys’ dormitory at night and give Wickham a lecture? It was hard enough to keep track of Theo. And then there was Charles Bingley, who followed Darcy around like a puppy. If only he were not the oldest, and expected to be looked up to by everyone. But then, he would not have been the heir, either. It was the price he had to pay, he supposed, for this grand property he would one day inherit. Still, he could not be expected to perform miracles.
“I have been unable to keep Wickham from mischief, Father. He enjoys playing pranks, and I cannot see how I am expected to stop him.”
Mr. Darcy sighed. “You are the eldest. If you set him a good example, he is bound to follow in your footsteps. His father is a good man, and I am sure his son’s slight tendency to wildness will be curbed as he grows older. I am counting on you, my boy, to provide Wickham with guidance and to instil in him your superior moral principles.”
“Enough,” said Lady Ann, breaking into their conversation. “Give the boy a chance to settle in and enjoy his holiday.” She smiled at him, her eyes twinkling. “Why don’t you go up and change, then you can join your brothers and see what Cook has prepared for you?”
Darcy felt his spirits lift. He was so grateful to his Mama for interrupting he could have hugged her, but, of course, he was too old for that. “Thank you, Mama,” he said. He managed to retain his dignified posture through the door and down the hallway, keeping his chin up as his father always instructed, but as soon as he reached the stairway he abandoned all pretenses and took the stairs two at time. At the top, he leaned over the bannister and gave a little whoop of joy. “Huzzah! I’m free!” And just to prove it, he slid down the bannisters, all the way down then ran all the way up the stairs again. Twelve days. Twelve whole days of Christmastide still to go! He intended to enjoy every one of them.