When Mr. Darcy, Mrs. Darcy, and Mr. Bingley entered upon the scene, having been belatedly alerted to Mrs. Norton’s ailment, the drawing room was yet a scene of chaos. Their appearance had the helpful effect of silencing the many children clamoring around the sofa upon which she lay, her head in Mrs. Bingley’s lap. They parted before their elders like the Red Sea.
“What is wrong? What has happened?” Mrs. Darcy cried, kneeling down beside her sister and feeling for her pulse.
“She ran into the house screaming she had been shot!” Mrs. Bingley said in a shaky voice. “Yet there is no blood.”
Mrs. Darcy began inspecting her sister’s form for injury and Mr. Darcy ordered, “Miss Lee! Miss Jones! Please remove your charges from the room!” The children, suddenly compliant, were quickly ushered out the door, while Edmund approached his father and pulled him aside.
Tom signaled to Mark and George to follow the others, and the three had almost escaped when Mr. Darcy, still beside Edmund, pointed an accusing finger their way and said, “Not you three!"
The boys turned reluctantly around and slowly walked back across the room.
“Edmund believes you may know something of what has befallen your aunt,” he said sternly, looking to his eldest. “I am waiting for you to enlighten me, Tom.”
“We were just in the woods by the lawn,” he smoothly replied. “We came in when we heard Aunt Norton hollering, like everyone else. I don’t know why Edmund should think we have any more information than any of the others.”
Mr. Darcy looked at both Mark and George, neither of whom could hide their guilt as well as Tom, and sighed miserably. He knew not when his son had become such an accomplished liar, but the realization that he was tore at his heart. “Mark? George? What have you to say for yourselves.” Neither boy replied, both staring downward in shame. Mr. Darcy looked again to his son, who confidently met his eye. “Are you lying to me, Tom?”
Tom dropped his gaze and assumed an attitude of repentance. “I am sorry, Father.”
“Tell me what happened.”
“George did not mean any harm,” he quickly said, “I am sure he did not.”
“Me?” George exclaimed in alarm.
“George is not to blame,” Mark spoke up. “It was our idea. He warned us it was a poor one, but we really did not mean to do Aunt Norton any harm.”
“Mark!” Tom exclaimed, his voice a warning.
“What did you do?” Mr. Darcy asked, the words seeming to come from someone else.
Mark swallowed hard, looked pleadingly at Tom, then back at Mr. Darcy. “Tom fired his slingshot across Aunt Norton’s path. He did not hit her. I swear it.”
His nephew’s admission was like a knife in Mr. Darcy’s side, slowly twisting as the full magnitude of what he was hearing sunk in. His son had played a dangerous prank, which was bad enough, but then he lied about it and tried to blame another. He must have thought his father would believe him over this new nephew, the son of his old nemesis. Never had Mr. Darcy felt more a failure, not even when Wickham nearly absconded with his sister, all those many years ago.
Mrs. Norton was beginning to rouse and moan. Mr. Darcy Looked to where his wife sat busily administering to her sister and was grateful she had been spared the burden of her son’s sins, at least temporarily. “Go to my study and wait for me there,” he ordered the three boys. “You too Edmund. I will be in to speak with you shortly.”
“You betrayed me, Mark!” Tom said as soon as they were in the privacy of Mr. Darcy’s study. “And you too, Edmund. How dare you!”
“How dare I?” Edmund, never one to raise his voice, nearly shouted. “How dare you! Where do you find the audacity, Tom? Have you no thought at all for the lives you endangered? Yes, lives! For you placed George’s life in threat today just as much as you did Aunt Norton’s. I am ashamed to call you brother.”
“You had best not speak so to me,” Tom growled. “I should be sorry to see another prospective rector of Kympton lose his livelihood.”
“It is not in your power to deprive me of my birthright, but it is within Father’s. Yours as well. If nothing else inspires you to contrition, I am certain losing your inheritance would.”
Tom had no reply to this, and for the first time seemed truly chastened.
“What did you mean by ‘another prospective rector of Kympton?’” Mark suddenly asked.
“My father was meant to have the living,” George explained. “Tom implies Uncle Darcy denied it to him, but it is not true. He accepted a cash settlement for the value of the living.”
“I don’t know how you know that,” Mr. Darcy’s voice interrupted the boys, who had not heard the door open. Mr. Bingley followed him into the room. “I am sure your father never told you.”
George blushed but faced his uncle and said, “No, my father spoke rather bitterly of the loss of the living, but long before I came here and met you I realized his version of events did not add up.”
“George has been snooping through old estate ledgers, Father,” Tom said.
“At your insistence,” Edmund appnded, earning him a violent glare from his brother.
Mr. Darcy sighed heavily and dropped into his chair. “Your aunt will recover, though she has suffered a severe shock. I hope all of you understand the seriousness of your actions. Had your thoughtless prank resulted in her death, you might have been held responsible before the law.” He paused to allow this notion to seep into their minds.
“I am very disappointed in you, Mark, to pull such a cruel trick,” Mr. Bingley said. “I must discuss with your mother how best to punish you, but I assure you it will be severe.”
“Yes, Papa,” Mark said. His face spoke his understanding, both showing fear of what might come and acknowledgement that whatever it was, he had earned it.
“Come along, your Uncle Darcy wishes to speak to the others alone.” Mark followed his father out of the room, looking back miserably at his cousins before shutting the door behind him.
“I do not even know where to begin.” Tom opened his mouth to offer a suggestion but an upheld hand stopped his tongue. “Much has been revealed in the past few moments, the severity of which is difficult to digest. Foolish pranks and invasions of privacy aside, we have disharmony between brothers, abuse of power, and deception with which to contend. In the end, the fault must be mine. Somehow, I have failed to instill a proper morality, and Elizabeth and I will have to do something to account for this neglect, but Tom: you must understand the severity of your actions! You are to be the Master of Pemberley someday! Countless people will be dependent on your good sense and honor. Today I fear you have revealed a character unfit for such a task.”
“I am sorry, Father,” he said. “For everything. It was stupid to lead the others in the stunt. I take full responsibility.”
Mr. Darcy’s eyes spoke his pain. “Now you say what you ought to have the moment I inquired. How do I know you do not speak only to appease me? Your first instinct was to evade responsibility for your actions.”
“I am sorry, Father,” Tom said again. “It was very wrong to blame George.”
“Yes, it was. Far worse than it would have been to have tried to put the blame on Mark, who is not in any way beholden to you. Have you apologized to George?”
Tom promptly turned to his cousin and extended his hand. “I am sorry, George. Have I your forgiveness?”
“Yes,” George relented for the second time that day and shook the proffered hand, though he could see no sincerity in Tom’s eyes.
“You will both make a full confession and apology to your Aunt Norris. I imagine she may be in need of a few days of rest to recover herself. You will offer to assist her while she convalesces with anything she requires.”
“Yes, sir,” Tom and George chorused in reply.
“I blush for you, Tom,” he said severely. “Based upon your recent actions, I feel it incumbent to remind you that you shall enact no vengeance upon either Edmund, Mark, and most certainly not George for what has occurred here today.”
“We will discuss your punishment further. Edmund, George, before you leave us, I want to clarify a few matters, that they need not be further pursued,” he paused thoughtfully. “Nearly twenty years ago, George’s father did indeed receive a payment from me for the value of the living at Kympton. He professed the intention of studying the law, which the funds provided should have easily covered. As you know, he ended up in a different career, and upon marriage received from me the purchase of an ensigncy in the Regulars, as a means of supporting his wife and future family. These dealings have no bearing on the fissure between myself and him, the reasons for which I trust cannot be found in any ledger. If you have any further questions on the matter, I invite you to ask them now.”
Edmund and George both shook their head in reply, while Tom managed to look as if he had never a care for the subject at all.
“Very good. I trust the topic may now be permanently closed for discussion. Let me just say your father’s past is not your own, George. Despite your part in today’s outrage, your subsequent conduct reflects well on your character. You aunt and I are very happy to have you with us here at Pemberley.”
“Thank you, Uncle Darcy.”
“Now go. Tom and I have much to discuss.”
The boys left the young heir to his fate, closing the study door behind them.
Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery! I quit such odious subjects as soon as I can, impatient to restore everybody, not greatly in fault themselves, to tolerable comfort, and to have done with all the rest.
Ten years following these events, Thomas Darcy attempted to jump an ominous hedge and broke his neck.
Darcy and Elizabeth, though heartbroken by his death, found solace in the knowledge that he did not suffer and even came to see the good of it in time. Their other children were constant sources of pride and their love for them and each other only grew in intensity throughout the years.
Mr. Norton proceeded Tom to the grave before Edmund was old enough to succeed him. Mrs. Norton left the rectory and took up possession of the far grander Dower House, where she discovered ailments of her own to fill the void the loss of her husband’s gout left in her conversation.
Mr. Carson and Miss Lee, once their services were no longer required by the Darcys, made a future for themselves together and had three very well-educated children to show for it.
The Bingleys lived a charmed existence, rarely touched by loss or grief. Mark studied engineering and invested heavily in the railroad, his private fortune one day outstripping that of all his other relations.
Edmund never did take orders but proved a superior landlord, ensuring the prosperity of Pemberley and all attached to it for generations to come. He spent his later years developing his love of painting and joined the Royal Academy, his works regularly featured in the Summer Exhibition.
The boys never did learn the extent of the elder Wickham’s betrayal of the Darcy family, though the younger George Wickham forever called Pemberley home, his bond with the Darcys solidified and the injuries of the past fully forgotten by the time he was old enough to wed Maria.
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