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Chapter 22: The Last Chapter

Fleurette flew over the ground, her delicate hoofs barely seeming to touch the road as she ran. Georgiana bent low in the saddle, horse and rider moving together as one fluid entity, sweeping along, neck and neck with the winter wind.

The road had been running along straight for nearly a mile, but now it bent, and before this bend Georgiana slowed, drawing Fleurette up smoothly and turning to look back down the road.

Nathaniel cantered up beside her. He had not raced up that last stretch of road so fast, partly because his Regulus, though a fine mount, was not a daughter of Pegasus as Fleurette was, and partly because there was something intoxicating about the image of Georgiana flying gracefully along before him with the wind in her hair. It had come loose in her wild ride and fell down the back and about the shoulders of her dark blue coat in golden waves. Her glowing face was framed in windblown curls, her fast breathing made little clouds in the December air, and her dark eyes danced as she waited for him to come alongside her.

"I wanted to wait for you, before going on," she explained. "You can see the house once you round this bend can you not?"

"Yes. How did you know?" Nathaniel asked in some surprise.

"I don't quite know," Georgiana said, smiling. "I just felt, all at once, like I was home."

Nathaniel regarded her in wonder. It was an expression that he had found himself wearing often in the last few days, when he looked at his beautiful young wife and marveled that she could be his.

They moved forward again at a slow canter, and as the road bent, Springthorne opened up before them with its hills, now dusted with the first snows of winter, its quiet valleys, sleeping until the spring should wake them, and the grey stone house in the distance.

They dismounted near the house and tethered their horses to an evergreen tree. Georgiana stroked Fleurette's neck as the beautiful creature nibbled at a feathery branch.

Georgiana had not thought Fleurette would come with her to Yorkshire, but Darcy had said, "She is your horse, and where you go, so does she." When Georgiana had arrived at Matlock, Fleurette was already installed in the stable there, having been ridden over by one of Pemberley's grooms the day before.

Arrived at the front door, Nathaniel produced the key and unlocked it, and he and Georgiana entered. There was no one there, for the old inhabitants were gone and the house was empty, waiting for its new master and mistress to take possession.

Hand in hand, Georgiana and Nathaniel walked from room to room of the ground floor, from the entrance hall to the front parlor, to the dining room, and down the short hall to the kitchen. Back to the entrance hall and across to the room which served as both library and study, and then up the stairs, which opened up at the top onto another bright, spacious hallway.

There were four doors, two on each side, leading to comfortably sized rooms, and one door at the end of the hall, which Nathaniel opened, saying, "This will be our room."

It was the largest of the upstairs rooms. Its walls were paneled with smooth, light wood and the large fireplace at one end was of the grey stone with which the house was primarily built. Separate doors of the same light wood led to closet and washroom. There were tall windows on either side of the fireplace which let the morning sunlight stream in, bathing everything in cheerful light.

"I love it, Nathaniel," Georgiana said, when she had made a full circle around the room and returned to take his hand once more.

"You truly like it, Georgiana, and are not just saying that to please me?" Nathaniel asked. "For you already know my feelings about Springthorne."

"No. It is truly perfect," she said earnestly. "Why, I have been here only an hour and this place already feels almost as dear to me as Pemberley. I am prepared to be very happy here."

Nathaniel squeezed her hand gratefully. Still holding his hand, Georgiana moved to continue the tour, but he suddenly pulled her back and, drawing her to him, kissed her quickly. She pulled his face down to hers and kissed him back, a series of short, sweet kisses, punctuated by breathless laughter and loving smiles.

"Come," Nathaniel said. "There is one more room downstairs you haven't seen yet."

"I thought we went over all the ground floor rooms."

"There is the back parlor still," Nathaniel said, drawing her towards the stairwell. Georgiana followed, slightly mystified.

But when she walked into the little family parlor and saw what was there, she clapped her hands and cried out in delight, "Oh, it is my pianoforte!"

She hurried forward to run her hands over the smooth wood and caress the snowy white keys in a way that showed Nathaniel how much she had secretly longed for the beloved instrument, even after only four days.

"Your brother sent it," he explained, smiling at her joy. "He wanted you to have one right away and he thought this one would make you feel at home."

"He was right," Georgiana said softly.

"He is also a step ahead of us," Nathaniel said laughingly. "We have barely begun the process of furnishing this place."

"We shall get everything done in time," Georgiana said. "I am looking forward to the process of turning this place into our home almost as much as I am looking forward to its being finished."

"You must remember that it cannot be Pemberley," Nathaniel warned. "We cannot afford Pemberley."

"But we can afford a simple, lovely home, Nathaniel," Georgiana said earnestly, coming into his arms and lifting her face to kiss him tenderly. "And that is all I want."

Georgiana was kept so busy over the next three weeks that she had no time whatsoever for the homesickness that young brides sometimes suffer. She and Nathaniel were constantly riding back and forth from Matlock to Springthorne, sometimes accompanied by Richard or Kitty, as they went about the often difficult but always delightful task of preparing their new home.

Some of the furnishings had been left, but many had been taken or sold, and the house must be fitted out with new ones. Georgiana's good taste, coupled with her desire to prove to Nathaniel that she could make the best of her change in circumstances, worked in harmony to fit the house up with a simplicity and elegance delightful to behold. Nothing unnecessary was bought, but what was bought was of a fine quality, both practical and pleasing to the eye.

Servants must be hired, four in all, not many compared to the numerous staff at Pemberley to be sure, but more than enough for the size of the house at Springthorne. Kitty was of assistance here, and soon a cook, upstairs maid, downstairs maid, and manservant to see to the new carriage and the horses had been hired and moved into their respective quarters.

Between meetings with Mr. Carter, for he would not rest until he was thoroughly convinced Matlock was in hands that understood it, getting to know his own land, and assisting Georgiana in her work on the house, Nathaniel was perhaps the busiest of all, and Georgiana found herself growing eager for the time when they would be settled quietly in their new home, with time to spend simply being together.

But first there was Christmas to celebrate, for the newly married Wakefields, as well as the Matlocks and Bingleys, had left Pemberley three weeks before with invitations to return on the 23rd of December, and stay through the New Year. Georgiana was happy to return to Pemberley, happy that the initial separation from her family had been so short and easy to bear, and happiest of all that when she returned to Yorkshire it would be to her new home and life with Nathaniel.

Elizabeth had invited the Collins to spend Christmas with them at Pemberley, but Charlotte was two months away from the delivery of her second child and preferred not to travel so far. Charlotte did not say so in her letter of course, but Elizbeth knew both she and Mr. Collins were hoping it would be a son and the future heir of Longbourn. Instead the Collins were to spend the holidays with Charlotte's family in Hertfordshire, which arrangement suited Elizabeth very well in the end, for it resulted in her mother and father also declining her invitation, in favor of spending Christmas in the comfort of their own home, in the company of the Lucas family, the Collinses, Mary and her husband, and their little son Christopher. Elizabeth privately expected that the Wickhams would also attend and was heartily glad that she was to have her own Christmas with the people she loved best in the world, far away from that gathering.

Lady Ashton would come with the Matlocks, but her society was never unwelcome at Pemberley. Thus, as Elizabeth realized with surprise, there was to be only one potentially problematic guest, in comparison to the usual four or five, for Lady Catherine had accepted her invitation and was to arrive on Christmas Eve.

The morning of the 23rd dawned cold and clear, and shortly after breakfast the Bingley carriage rolled up Pemberley's drive, and a little less than an hour later the two carriages from Yorkshire arrived together.

There was laughter and embraces and a few tears.

Georgiana was whirled from one hug to another, until she found herself standing in front of her brother. Darcy studied her for a moment, and he found no fault in what he saw. Georgiana was fairly glowing with happiness. Her cheeks were rosy, and her eyes were bright, and her brother knew the answer before he asked the question.


"So happy."

They all trooped inside, Cathy and James were whisked away to the nursery to play with their cousins, and the adults gathered in the parlor, to warm themselves before a cheerful Christmas fire and to talk. And how they did talk. There was so much to speak of, even after less than a month of separation, that the day passed away almost before anyone was aware of the fact, and Christmas Eve was nearly upon them.

Georgiana lay on her side, watching Nathaniel as he pulled on his boots and fastened the buttons on his overcoat by candlelight. The gentlemen were to go out shooting that morning, for the purpose of securing Christmas dinner, and they had agreed to start before sunup.

Finished, Nathaniel turned to see if Georgiana was awake yet, and seeing that she was, walked over to the bed and bent over her, whispering, "Good morning."

"Good morning," she replied, smiling as she reached up to run her fingers through his hair. "You are ready to set out then?"


"I shall miss you," playfully.

Nathaniel smiled. "Why don't you come with us then? You are as good a horsewoman as any."

"I would," she replied, pulling herself up so that her back was against the headboard, and giving Nathaniel room to sit down on the edge of the bed. "But you know Lizzy has other plans for this morning. We must have the house ready for my aunt, Lady Catherine, when she arrives. And Nathaniel," she added earnestly, "I've been meaning to speak to you about Aunt Catherine. You must let me tell her about us. She… she has a heart, though it is usually buried under layers of family pride and a controlling nature. However, she will assuredly be very angry at first. Her words cannot hurt me, for I became immune to them long ago, but it would pain me very much to have you exposed to her wrath so soon."

Nathaniel frowned a little. "I dislike the idea of leaving such an unpleasant task for you to undertake alone. But," he continued, "If you truly think you will suffer less by following this plan, I will not pretend to know better."

"Thank you dearest," Georgiana said, lifting his hands and kissing them, as she had on that painful day by the river that neither of them would ever forget.

He smiled tenderly at her, and then stood up, saying, "I must go. The others will be waiting."

She nodded, and he bent to press a farewell kiss to her lips, and then he turned and left the room, and a few minutes later Georgiana, standing at the window, saw him and the other gentlemen setting off.

As soon as the ladies were all gathered together, Elizabeth set them to work decorating the house with Christmas greenery.

It was a delightful morning, for there is nothing so pleasant as to be busy at some agreeable work with people whom it is a pleasure to be with.

Lady Ashton, who was given a comfortable chair by the fire and a pile of greenery and holly sprigs to weave together and form into wreaths, had never in all her life been privy to such a charming gathering, for the young women laughed and chattered with the happy abandon of schoolgirls, and yet with the grace and maturity of women, wives, and mothers at the same time.

Jane was her ever sweet and cheerful self, Elizabeth was at her most lively and vivacious, Kitty was everything loving and graceful, and as for Georgiana, happiness radiated from her like heat from a candle, and all those about her basked in her light.

They had only just finished their task, and were standing back to admire their handiwork, when a footman entered and barely had time to announce, "Lady Catherine de Bourgh," before the lady swept into the room in a rustle of burgundy silk.

All the ladies in the room curtsied, and then Elizabeth stepped forward, saying warmly, "Lady Catherine, I am so glad you could come and see us this year. Won't you come sit down? Or would you like to be shown to your rooms so you may freshen up after your long journey from London?"

"I am not so old that a few hours in a carriage will render me exhausted," Lady Catherine said, rustling across the room and sitting down upon the sofa as she spoke. "The inn that I stayed in last night was very much lacking in the necessary comforts, and I made sure to instruct the landlady as to the improvements she must make if she wishes genteel people to continue to stop there, but the ride itself was not taxing."

Even Elizabeth was at a loss as to how to reply to such a speech, but Georgiana closed the breach by coming forward to kiss her aunt's cheek. Elizabeth, watching her a little anxiously, noted that she kept her left hand hidden within a fold of her skirt, but that in all other respects she seemed perfectly calm.

Kitty must greet Lady Catherine next, and speak to her for a moment about Cathy, and then it was Lady Ashton's turn, and that was all there was time for before the footman entered again to tell them that the gentlemen had returned from their hunting, and would join them momentarily.

Richard and Darcy were the first to appear, bringing the freshness of the outdoors, well satisfied with their day's sport, and full of admiration for the festive glory in which the house was now arrayed.

Both went at once to their aunt and greeted her affectionately, for neither had forgotten her generosity in coming so far to assist them as best she might at the memorable court case for Cathy's guardianship, almost exactly one year before.

Bingley was the next to join them, and he and Richard had soon launched into an animated description of their sport, for the benefit of the room at large.

Lady Catherine listened with the other ladies at first, but she soon seemed to grow distracted, and it was not long before she leaned over to Elizabeth, who was sitting beside her, and asked, "Who is that young man?"

Nathaniel had entered a moment before and, catching Darcy's eye, had moved quietly over to the corner of the room where he stood.

"Has Georgiana said aught to you of how she wishes Lady Catherine to be told of your marriage?" Darcy had asked him in a low voice.

"She told me quite decidedly that she wished to be the one to do the telling."

Darcy had nodded reluctantly.

Lady Catherine had seen this exchange, though she could catch no word of what they were saying, and was instantly curious as to the identity of the unknown young man, who, without being at all conscious of the fact, cut rather a rather dashing figure, with his bright blue eyes, his waving brown hair, and his dark green coat.

Elizabeth looked to see whom Lady Catherine meant, though she knew well enough. "That is Mr. Wakefield," she began, and then stopped. She looked towards Georgiana, but she was listening attentively to Richard's narration, and gave no sign that she had heard the exchange.

"Call him over. I wish to be introduced," Lady Catherine demanded in her usual imperious tone.

Elizabeth did so, and Nathaniel approached and bowed.

"Lady Catherine, may I present Mr. Wakefield."

Lady Catherine inclined her head graciously.

"It is an honor to meet your ladyship," Nathaniel said.

"Where are your people from, Mr. Wakefield?"

The abruptness of the question startled Nathaniel a little, but he remembered Georgiana's request and answered simply, "Here in Derbyshire, your ladyship."

"Does your family own extensive property here?"

"No, your ladyship," with a faint smile. "There are none of my family still living in Derbyshire now. I recently purchased an estate in Yorkshire, not far from Matlock. Lord Matlock has been my friend for nearly a year now, and I was acquainted with Mr. Darcy even before that."

He hoped that this voluntary supply of information would be enough for Lady Catherine, but it was not to be so.

"If you are intimate in my nephews' circle, how is it that I have never seen you in London?"

For the first time Nathaniel hesitated. While he was in no way ashamed of his humble beginnings, he knew that, for Georgiana's sake, he must conceal wherever possible the fact that he had once been a simple farm laborer. Yet he could not bring himself to stoop to lying, and so he faltered.

After a moment he said slowly, "The upkeep of the property under my care has required a great deal of my attention these last few years, and I have always preferred the country to the city."

"Your land must be very extensive to keep you so busy. How large is your estate, pray tell?"

Elizabeth opened her mouth to protest, but Nathaniel was ready this time and said smoothly, "It is not so very large, but it provides me with everything I need, and with ample occupation, without which I confess I should be very restless."

"I see," Lady Catherine said, but with less interest than before, for the information that Mr. Wakefield was only a country gentleman with a small estate and no title was a disappointment to her, and when he was called away by Richard a moment later, she was very willing to let him go.

Dinner was announced, and passed away without incident. Georgiana did not sit by Nathaniel, and did not speak to him much, but she smiled at him whenever she was certain her aunt would not see.

After they had finished eating, the ladies repaired to the parlor again, leaving the gentlemen to their after-dinner talk.

This was the time that Georgiana had chosen to reveal the news of her marriage to her aunt. She was not frightened, but she was uncertain about how to best to approach the subject, and she was still debating within herself when Lady Catherine gave her an unexpected opening.

"Come and sit beside me, Georgiana," she called, gesturing to the seat beside her. "I have something I wish to discuss with you."

The other ladies, each more or less aware of what was very likely about to happen, took seats at a little distance, bent their heads over their books or embroidery, and pretended not to listen.

"Now Georgiana," the aunt began, when the niece had complied with her request and taken the offered seat. "I have never been one to mince words as well you know. Therefore, I must tell you that I am most seriously displeased with the lack of progress you have made in securing a husband. You are…" she hesitated. "Pray remind me of your age?"

"Twenty-one," Georgiana answered demurely, but with a sudden something that was very much like a sparkle of merriment in her dark eyes.

"Twenty-one?" Lady Catherine threw up her hands in consternation. "Why Georgiana, your mother was nineteen when she married your father. You are an heiress, related to men and women of noble birth, and you have a duty to marry in the first circles and continue to elevate your family socially. Yet what progress have you made in fulfilling this duty? None whatsoever!"

"But Aunt Catherine, you must not scold me thus," Georgiana protested mildly, "For I have indeed made progress in securing a husband."

"Indeed?" Lady Catherine looked most surprised. "And what have you accomplished?"

Georgiana had been sitting with her hands folded in her lap, the right one covering the left. Now she drew the latter out and held it out to her aunt.

Lady Catherine stared at the gold band on the ring finger. Her mouth opened and shut several times, but no sound escaped her.

At last she managed, "You… you are married?"

"Yes aunt."

"To whom?"

"To Mr. Wakefield."

Lady Catherine sat perfectly still for a long moment. Then she asked in a low voice, "Surely Georgiana, you cannot mean the very same Mr. Wakefield I spoke to in the parlor not twenty minutes ago?"

"The very same, aunt," Georgiana said, and for a moment feared she had gone too far, for Lady Catherine's face turned the same shade of purple as her dress, and she rose to her feet.

"You are a wretched, lying girl!" she cried. "Tell me that you are lying!"

Georgiana rose likewise. "I am not lying," she said calmly. "Ask Elizabeth, ask Kitty, ask Jane. All three witnessed the ceremony, which took place here at Pemberley, not a month ago."

Lady Catherine did not so much as look at the other ladies, who by this time had dropped all pretense of pretending not to listen and were looking on with varying expressions of alarm.

"That I should live to see the day that Georgiana Darcy threw herself away on a poor country gentleman, known to nobody whatsoever, with no family worth mentioning, and who I highly suspect made what small fortune he has in trade! You will be the laughingstock of society! All gentlewomen will scorn you! I myself will never look upon your face again!"

"You are mistaken Lady Catherine!"

The words came from Kitty, who, unable to remain silent while her dearest friend was being thus abused, now leapt to her feet and came to stand beside Georgiana.

"Not all gentlewomen will scorn her. Here is one who will not. And I assure you, Lady Catherine," she continued, with all the fierce protectiveness of a lioness in her flashing eyes, "that I will use all the influence of my position as the wife of the Earl of Matlock to see to it that Georgiana is not scorned one whit more than can be helped, in a society where scorn and jealousy are held up as virtues."

There was a moment of intense silence.

"Will you scorn her, Jane?" Kitty asked, turning suddenly to her sister.

"Of course not," said Jane, with great feeling.


"I would die first," Elizabeth said quietly.

"Will you, Lady Ashton?" Kitty asked.

"No, I will not," that lady replied, in a firmer voice than any but Kitty had ever heard her use. "I have come to look upon this young woman," looking tenderly at Kitty, "as my own daughter, and if Georgiana is her family then Georgiana is my family as well, and I will stand by her."

Kitty smiled gratefully at Lady Ashton, and then, turning back to Lady Catherine said, "You see? There are four gentlewomen in this room who will not scorn her, opposed to one who says she will. The odds are against your prophecy being fulfilled."

She looked at Georgiana as she spoke the final words, and Georgiana, with tears of gratitude and affection swimming in her eyes, held out her arms to Kitty, who hugged her tightly.

Lady Catherine stood still for a moment, gasping like a fish out of water. Then she slowly sank down in her seat again, her whole attitude one of utter defeat.

No one spoke. No one could speak, for Georgiana, Kitty, and Elizabeth were all in tears, and Jane and Lady Ashton were very near it.

At last Georgiana sat down again beside her aunt, and said, in a voice still full of emotion, "Please aunt, I do not wish to quarrel with you. Will you try to understand that I have chosen to marry for love, at the cost of wealth and title it is true, but not at the cost of happiness? I have not thrown myself away. Indeed, my life is only just beginning, and I should like you to be a part of it. Will you be, please?"

It was a moment before Lady Catherine would reply. When she did, she asked stiffly, "Why should I remain when my opinions are so clearly unwanted here?"

"Because you are wanted here," Georgiana said gently.

Lady Catherine could not bring herself to meet her niece's eyes just then, but she nodded, and at that moment the door opened, and the gentlemen entered the room.

Darcy and Nathaniel looked instantly towards Georgiana and Lady Catherine as they entered, and one glance each was enough to tell them that the secret had been revealed.

Nathaniel saw the traces of tears on Georgiana's cheeks, and his heart sank within him, and he went to her and took her hands, bending to look into her eyes with an anxious, questioning look.

"Do not be alarmed, Nathaniel," Georgiana whispered softly, smiling reassuringly at him. "It is alright, as I told you it would be."

There was an emotional silence in the room, and Georgiana, turning to the others and blushing a little to see all eyes fixed earnestly upon her, said shyly, "Now, let us be happy. It is Christmas Eve after all."

A breath of fresh air seemed to waft through the room, and suddenly everyone could breathe again, could talk again, could laugh again.

The children were brought down, and, as the sun set, the whole family gathered close together before the Christmas fire. There was quiet conversation at first, but gradually everyone fell into a contented silence.

Elizabeth, looking about her, felt a deep sense of peace, which filled the depths of her soul and shone in her dark eyes.

Jane and Charles sat together, with Anna curled up in her father's arms, nearly asleep. Tomorrow the house would be filled with the children's laughter, and the pitter-patter of their running feet, but now all six little ones were quiet, in various stages of drowsiness.

Kitty's head was leaning on Richard's shoulder. James' head was in her lap, and she was gently stroking his fair hair back from his forehead. There was a quiet light in her blue eyes, which spoke of deep understanding, consciousness, and love, and Elizabeth, thinking back to the Kitty of five years ago, was amazed anew at the transformation.

Next to them sat Lady Ashton, with Cathy ensconced beside her in the large armchair. The little girl's tumble of copper curls shone in the light of the fire, and there was a thoughtful look in her round, innocent little face.

Lady Catherine was very erect in her chair. It would take time to process the series of shocks she had received that night. But in the end, she was there, and that counted for a great deal.

Georgiana and Nathaniel were sitting a little away from the others, hand in hand. The firelight lit up their faces too, beautiful faces, full of youthful hope. They had come so far together already, and they would continue to face life bravely, with hands and hearts joined.

Elizabeth looked down at Elinor, asleep in her arms, and across to where William and Louis lay on the rug before the fire, contemplating the dancing flames with that serious Darcy expression, and then up at Darcy himself. How she loved him, this man who had grown with her, suffered with her, and loved her more than she felt she could ever deserve for the last five years. He caught her gaze and smiled, and leaned over to brush a stray curl from her face, whispering softly...

"How are you this evening, Mrs. Darcy?"

The End

A/N: Thank you so very, very much to each and every one of you who came along with me on this one of life's many little journeys.

Less than two years ago writing was NOT my thing, and I was thoroughly convinced I'd never be anything but terrible at it. But then I discovered the JAFF community, and almost right away I felt so at home here that I somehow convinced myself to write out and post chapter one of Life at Pemberley. I didn't expect anyone to even read it, much less like it, so when I checked my email a few hours later and found three lovely little reviews, I broke down and cried happy tears. For this reason I'd like to shoutout nanciellen, CatherineWendell, and my first guest reviewer. Without them, I wouldn't have had the nerve to post a second chapter and I wouldn't be here today. :)

Thank you again and goodbye for now!