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The Better Angels of Their Nature

June 03, 2016 04:42PM
Haven't posted anything for a while as I have foolishly mired myself in writing both a long modern and long Regency. I hope this short playground piece will push me to finish one of them.

The Better Angels of Their Nature

In which Charles Bingley confronts the laxity of his parenting skills, the Darcys roll their eyes, and Caroline has a baby.




1822: On the road to Pemberley


“Be good. Please, boys. Be good.”

Charles Bingley leaned back in his seat, mustering a hard stare for his twin sons. The clear blue of their eyes, the smattering of freckles across their browned noses and cheeks, the gaping absence of their front teeth; all bespoke of a charm they exercised without effort. They were the joys of his life, these two boys. His sisters had no sons, and he had beaten his good friend and brother, Darcy, in begetting not only a son and heir, but, in double good fortune: Two at one time! The halls of Pemberley had seen dolls and tiny teacups belonging to the Darcys’ first babe before the arrival of the estate’s young master-in-training. Yes, young Alexander George Darcy was followed quickly by two more boys and Darcy’s lads now outstripped Bingley’s in number if not size and age. Hence the reminder. Again.

Be good, he prayed.

When the Bingleys visited from their own estate some ten miles south, they never failed to leave their mark on the ancestral Darcy home. Pemberley had seen vases shattered, sheets tied in knots that could not be loosened, the moldy scrapings of pie plates left hidden in closets. Threads were pulled from rugs, hairs were yanked from heads, dolls were found with one eye missing. The prior visit was memorable less for the sheep dyed puce with berry juices than for the centuries-old tapestry draped across a balcony and used as a tent. During a rainstorm. Elizabeth’s welcoming smiles had grown tense, Darcy’s imperious scowls had returned, and the Bingleys’ visits had grown shorter.

Brothers though they may be, Bingley knew Darcy was losing patience for his darling nephews. He was a man who, from a young age, had regulated his own behaviour; his children, however high-spirited or yet incapable of speech, adhered to expected norms of the household. Darcy’s heir was but six years of age, and his two brothers still rather dependent on nursemaids. Nine-year-old Amelia Darcy and her governess could not be expected to fend off the attentions of Neddy and Charles Bingley. This visit, without his dearest Jane, was daunting for Bingley, though mayhap an opportunity for him to more freely remedy his sons’ comportment.

Please, he thought, do not break any valuables or steal into Darcy’s library or hide the baby. Anything but the baby. A moment later he repeated his thoughts to his sons.

“Oh Father,” one cried. “Uncle Darcy’s library is impenetrable. Only he and Jacobs have the key.”

Charles, that was Charles. He always speaks first, Bingley realized, proud of his own discernment and impressed by his son’s awareness of Pemberley.

“We like babies, Father!” the other (Neddy, yes?) agreed. “We will love our little cousins, but we will be impatient to return home and see Auntie Caroline’s babe!”

Bingley nodded and returned their beaming smiles. None of their mischief was done with purpose; they were a clever couple of boys showing unusual curiosity. Hurst’s mantle clock naturally drew their attention, their fingers, and a penknife to explore its inner workings. Sheep provides wool, which is then dyed, so why would one not dye the sheep before shearing it? The boys explained themselves so well, he could applaud their ingenuity and ambition if not the damage left in their wake.

It was difficult enough to keep his sons straight in his own mind. Remembering who arrived first, and thus was the firstborn of the pair, was a never-ending challenge. Bingley made no pretense that he could tell them apart. Only when unclothed could one discern a small birthmark on Neddy’s lower belly; unfortunately, with hirsuteness among the Bingley family’s most distinguishing traits, such a mark would disappear into manly curls when the boys became men. He would encourage a mustache for one of them.

Opinions were offered generously on the means to best identify the twins. His father in law had suggested branding them. Mrs Bennet believed a separation was best and offered to take young Neddy into Longbourn. Hurst postulated the usefulness of whip marks on their buttocks. Caroline opined that relieving the boys of their curls—Bingley was long aware she envied his hair and that of his sons—would allowed a perusal for the mark of Satan or distinguishing moles on their scalps.

He wondered how his sister was faring. Caroline had bemoaned the approach of motherhood and, he suspected, done what she could to prevent it. Yet her husband, and her duty to him, had triumphed. She would bear her first child—a boy, he hoped—for the sake of her husband’s legacy and her own sanity. He had overheard her complaints to Louisa about John’s too-frequent visits to her bed. It took three tumblers of his best brandy to clear his mind of the images conjured by that conversation. Her lying-in had ended abruptly this morning, hastening their departure and leaving him bereft of more than a hurried goodbye to his beloved Jane. True to herself, Caroline had been forthright: She did not wish the twins near when her babe was birthed.

Bingley looked again at his sons. He could not bear to be apart from them, let alone imagine striking them, or shaving them, or doing anything to mar their beauty. The beauty of angels. Since their births, he and Jane had been blessed with two baby girls, each wondrously beautiful but oh so delicate. They laughed and toddled about and gave their parents nothing but joy. They were his wee Janes, and Charles and Neddy were their mother’s angels, and never would he let word of their devilish escapades taint her image of them. She must think them perfect little gentlemen, as they always were in her presence. How they adore their mother, he mused. Just as I adored mine.

A wave of sadness threatened to overwhelm Bingley as he thought of his mother. He sighed and directed his thoughts to the present. Jane is an angel. Our girls are angels. The boys are simply a bit wild, in ways Darcy and I never were.

His eyes settled on his sons, sitting across the carriage and engaging in some minor arm wrestling. No one was bleeding.

All will be well. They are good boys.


****


“Papa, how many days will Neddy and Charles stay with us?”

Darcy’s gaze moved from resting on his wife and infant son to his daughter, perched on his lap and regarding him with a serious expression on her small face. “No more than a sen’night, Amelia. Just a few days.”

“And Aunt Jane will not come?”

Elizabeth leaned forward to reply, mindful of the sleeping baby in her arms. “No, dear. She is helping Auntie Caroline with her baby.”

The girl pushed herself off her father and slipped down to the floor. She was across the room and near the door when Darcy found his voice.

“Amelia? Did you not wish to finish the chapter? The prince has nearly reached the mountain.”

His dark-eyed daughter paused and turned, hands on her hips. She glanced at the book her father held out. “Papa, the prince will triumph and win the princess’s hand. As ever, the story will have a happy ending.”

“Sweetheart,” Darcy said gently. He wore a small smile but his dark brows were knitted in concern. “Why do you hurry away?”

“I must hide my dolls,” Amelia announced. “As well as my stuffed bunny and my box with Little Fanny– and all my valuable and precious things. I shall lock them in my wardrobe, and only you, Papa, shall have the key.”

Elizabeth rose, babe tucked in her arms, and walked toward her daughter. “Why should Sarah or Rosie not have the key?”

“Because the boys will steal it from them,” Amelia cried. “And you must not have it, Mama. Remember, last year? Neddy gave you a hug and put a toad in your pocket.”

Elizabeth shivered. “Yes. It was a poor choice of gift. I would have preferred a mouse or worm.”

Her husband coughed and she turned to watch him conquer his laughter.

“Oh Mama, you are a silly one. Only Papa can keep Pemberley safe from my cousins.” Amelia reached up to pat her baby brother’s head and gaze worriedly at him. “Please do not let them too near Edward or Henry.” The girl turned and put her hand on the doorknob; a footman on the other side quickly opened the heavy door.

The nursemaid, hovering nearby in the corridor with young Henry, took the swaddled baby Edward from his mother’s arms. Elizabeth bent down to hug her red-faced, overtired second son. “Hello, Henry. Are you ready for your bath and a visit from your papa?” His nod earned him kisses on both cheeks.

“I wish Aunt Lydia would visit,” Amelia cried. “George and Lucy are jolly. They love puppets and charades.”

Her parents exchanged a glance. Unclear as to whether her husband might growl or grin, Elizabeth spoke to the nursemaid.

“Sarah, Amelia needs your assistance with her belongings to prepare for the onslau—, arrival of her cousins. Please ask Rosie to help her and inform me of the outcome.”

The girl nodded and left with the children. After the footman closed the door, Elizabeth leaned against it and let out a sigh. “A long afternoon, and Charles and the boys have not yet arrived.”

Darcy nodded. “Indeed. The express indicated a hurried leave-taking, although any letter penned by Bingley appears hurriedly written. It is appalling, really.” Noticing his wife’s expression, he rose and took a few steps toward her. “Do you worry for your sister or for Caroline?”

“Both, I suppose,” she replied. “I worry more for Caroline’s mothering than her childbirth travails; I will hear much of them for years to come.”

Elizabeth took her husband’s outstretched hand and allowed him to lead her to the settee. “Jane will miss her little men. Did you write Bingley?”

“Yes,” he affirmed. “I reminded him to share only his sons’ goodness with us.”

“Only their goodness?” Elizabeth laughed quietly. “They are dear children, Fitzwilliam.”

“Yes, but they are the Bingleys’ dear children.” He rubbed his chin in thought. “It is as your father said, although it is neither steward nor maid who takes advantage of the Bingleys’ happy dispositions and generosity of spirit.”

“It is their children.” Elizabeth shrugged.

“The twin hellions,” Darcy countered.

“And to whom should a parent’s heart be most vulnerable?” Elizabeth cried. “Fitzwilliam, they are but eight. Your cousins were high-spirited children. Richard and his brother broke windows and arms. You stole pies and biscuits from the kitchen.”

“Cook set them out just for me,” her husband said, affecting a haughty voice. When she did not respond, Darcy took in her distressed expression and carried on. “Elizabeth, do you believe this too shall pass? That Neddy and Charles will age into goodness?”

Elizabeth met his eyes and frowned. “Wickham did not,” she said in a rueful voice. “But he did not have Jane as his mother nor the kindness of a father such as Bingley.” As Darcy nodded, she sighed dramatically. “But they do have Auntie Caroline.”

“Would that her husband reined in her behavior as she attempts to do with her nephews,” Darcy muttered. “Motherhood will be a test of her character, as well as the child’s,” he added under his breath.

“Fitzwilliam! She is likely being delivered of the babe as we sit here.”

Darcy’s response was made in earnest. “Do you hope as I do, as her husband does, for her to birth a son?”

Elizabeth began to reply and then looked to the rattle in her lap. Her fingers traced the engraved lines of the letter D, lines as delicate as her thoughts were not. “I believe any child can enhance his parents’ marital felicity, but a child who does not suffer untold hours choosing ribbons in a milliner’s shop, or in cultivating the patronesses of Almack’s, or receiving lessons in charming eligible young men would be best suited for Mr and Mrs Willoughby.”

“We are in agreement, then. A son, with his uncle’s sweet disposition and his father’s charm and skills as a bold rider and a decent shot.” Darcy’s own hopes for family had been fulfilled; he could wish nothing but happiness to any couple, even one as oddly matched as the Willoughbys.

“Poor John. Two unhappy marriages,” Elizabeth murmured.

“Pray motherhood enhances Caroline’s many latent charms.”

Elizabeth gave him a knowing look. “The charms are there, husband. Jane insists upon it.”

His eyes rose to meet hers before each looked away, hiding small grins. Darcy cleared his throat, and his conscience.

“They are to go to school in the autumn. Bingley agreed with my suggestion.”

“Does Jane agree with him?” Elizabeth asked worriedly. “She has said nothing to me in her letters. They are her babies, she would miss them.”

She laid her hand on his chest. “Fitzwilliam, does she know?”

Darcy lifted her hand into his and gently ran his finger over her rings. “I suggested boarding school, Bingley took to the idea. I did nothing to persuade him. The boys’ behaviour did that.”

When Elizabeth remained silent, he bent his head toward hers and spoke more urgently. “It was an idea, not an order, Lizzy. I would not—.”

“I know that. I am wondering at his not having told Jane.”

“Mayhap she has not told you, my dear.” At his wife’s quiet gasp, Darcy raised her fingers to his lips. “Have you considered she may be in agreement but have a mother’s worry?”

“Or shame?” Elizabeth gripped his hand. “She is a good mother, Fitzwilliam. They are good parents.”

Her husband looked away, hoping to avoid disagreement over another man’s family. “Some children are wild, Lizzy. The boys need more discipline, a tighter hand, they always have. Charles and Jane are kind and loving parents, but they are indulgent, and have never brought themselves to punish their children.”

She shook her head in reluctant agreement. “They are each of them so complying that nothing ever is fully discussed or resolved.”

“How dull they are to neglect the joy of marital debates,” Darcy said lightly. “Or their resolutions.”

“Indeed, they find joy elsewhere, and agree upon it,” Elizabeth replied absently. “The material point is a simple one: Charles neglects to tell Jane of their sons’ true nature, and she sees only the angelic qualities of her children.”

“Your sister is so inclined for happiness she would smile at a marauding boar.”

Elizabeth bit back a laugh. “Oh she has, my dear. I believe it was back in autumn of 1811….”

“Hmm.” Darcy stilled but a moment before reaching around his wife’s waist and pulling her atop his lap. “Such an example you set for our angels, teasing their father. Truly, Lizzy, albeit rather clumsy tongued, I was a gentleman.”

The silk trim on Darcy’s waistcoat drew Elizabeth’s attention. “Surly on the surface, with all your sweetness hidden below.”

“Far below, hidden deeply within,” he purred as he nuzzled behind her ear.

They sat in silence, leisurely melding into an embrace. Slowly, Elizabeth began loosening his cravat. A loud yawn behind them stilled their movements.

“Fitzwilliam…” she whispered. “Where is Alexander?”

“Hmm?”

“He was here with Amelia and Edward while you read....”

Abruptly, Darcy lifted his head from where it was buried in his wife’s chest and moved his hand from her leg. Elizabeth slipped off his lap, and after seeing to her steadiness, he called out in a serious voice.

“Alexander…where have you got off to?”

A muffled sound came from underneath the large sofa.

Elizabeth called out. “Where is my darling boy?” Her gentle query was rewarded when Pemberley’s six-year-old heir, jacket askew and eyes squinting in the candlelight, crawled out from under the heavy furniture.

“Hello Mummy,” he yawned. “I was seeking new hiding places.”

Darcy held out his hand, beckoning his son nearer. The boy moved to stand in front of his father; he patted the man’s knee, and solemn eyes met solemn eyes. “Do not worry, Papa. I will protect us from Bingleys and marauding boars.”


~%~


1834: On the road from Derbyshire


“Be good. Please, boys. Be good.”

Charles Bingley leaned back in his seat, mustering a hard stare for his twin sons. The clear blue of their eyes, the shaven shadows of their cheeks, the prominent and always gleaming white teeth, bespoke of a charm they exercised without effort. They were the work of his life, these two boys. These near men. Truthfully, he worried both had become men during their final term at Eton. He had seen a change in their demeanours, a shift in how their eyes swept the young ladies at assemblies, balls and parties. Three years at Cambridge appeared to have further honed their education about women and the world; they were comfortably acquainted with many young ladies, and while maths and Latin proved difficult, Neddy had a mastery of geography and Charles excelled in history. Their skills on the dance floor or in sitting rooms could rarely be surpassed. Or repressed. They were charming, handsome, and prone to flirtation. Charles flitted in and out of love; Neddy in and out of other entanglements. It was a dangerous thing for a father with a small estate and two dowries to be funded.

He had spoken to his sons but once on the fairer sex and the mechanics of sexual congress. It was Darcy who had pressed the conversation, quietly, on the advice of his own son. Alexander was well-acquainted with Charles and Neddy and the lives they lived as schoolboys. The three had never shared rooms; Elizabeth and Darcy professed a desire for Alexander to advance friendships with the sons of Darcy’s former schoolmates. Jane thought it overly precious—“He is not a shy boy”—but Bingley suspected their reasons.

His sons were good! He knew they were akin to high-spirited colts, enjoying the years before duty compelled Charles to learn estate duties and Neddy to don a uniform or a collar. More supervision and guidance might have been the thing, but the Bingley daughters were so delicate and so needful of their father’s time and attention; Patience soon would have her coming out and Margaret would not lag behind. His boys had needed to grow up, and he had watched them grow into their own. How could he complain of their characters? They were kind and thoughtful to their mother and sisters, solicitous of their aunts and cousins, deferential to their uncles. He gave thanks every Sunday that no fathers or brothers had complained of the Bingley boys’ behaviour to their daughters or sisters.

Over the years he had been their father and companion, their friend and confidante. They smiled and nodded and agreed with every word he spoke; argument was not served at the Bingley dinner table, and was always made more pleasant by the twins’ stories and joviality. And now they were to finish their education. All would be well.

Lord, but he was tired. Lulled by the gentle rocking of the carriage, Bingley rested his head against the window. His sons watched their father’s eyes droop and his jaw slacken, and waited for his soft snore. It took but a moment. Charles glanced at his brother and made the usual announcement.

“Barring an unexpected bump in the road, Father shall sleep for the duration of the journey.”

Neddy grinned. “And sink into sweet dreams, as ever.”

His twin leaned closer, a serious expression spreading across his face. “When you were with my sisters this morning, I heard my parents arguing.”

Charles took in Neddy’s shocked countenance and continued. “Mama told him he had been too lax with us and made him aware that she knows of our sometimes intemperate behavior.”

“How? Who?”

“Aunt Caroline told her in the spring, after Uncle John died.”

Neddy slumped in his seat. “Uncle John always reined her in and lent my aunt an affectionate temper.”

“He was a pleasant sort of man, and a good father to Robert and Marianne.”

They sat quietly, each lost in his own thoughts.

“I regret that Mama would not think the best of us,” Neddy said glumly. “Aunt Elizabeth knows of our many escapades at Pemberley. It was she who found us with the popgun and the dead chicken.”

“Oh, and when we dropped tadpoles in the washstand pitchers.” Charles chuckled. “That was a jolly joke.”

“When we were but eight, it was,” Neddy agreed. “Poor Amelia did not agree.”

Charles’s face reddened from holding in whoops of laughter.

“She is the best of aunts, laughing even as she scolded us.” The younger of the twins folded his arms and looked down at his boots, shined and immaculate to carry him off to his final year of schooling. “She never told Mama. She thought it a father’s role.”

“Yet he did not,” Charles said quietly. “My father never raises his voice,” he added, “even when he should.”

“Father should follow the example of Uncle Darcy,” Neddy whispered. “He has been ever clear in his disapproval of us. He can be rather intimidating.”

“Frightening, really. Imperious, yet kind. No wonder Alexander is so…so….”

“Perfect,” they said in unison.

Charles rolled his eyes. “All the Darcys are admirable, even the little ones. Their perfection can annoy one so flawed as me.”

“And me.” They shared a smile before Neddy spoke again. “They have their mother’s happy spirit, their father’s sense of purpose, and the intelligence of them both.”

“Nicely stated. You are a keen observer, brother.”

“If I did not endeavor to pay attention, we would have been caught many times making mischief. No one but us knows the half of it.” Neddy acknowledged his brother’s agreement and lowered his voice. “It is time to put away childish things, Charles. Time for me to make a decision.”

His brother looked at him expectantly. “Helena or Juliet?” Neddy’s scowl surprised him. “I see. So you are serious. Will it be the law or the Lord?”

Curious blue eyes stared into a matching pair shadowed with a shy resolution. “I rather like the way General Fitzwilliam orders my cousins about…he has persuaded me that, with him as my mentor, I will be a fine officer.”

Charles burst into a grin. “I may envy you, brother, waving swords and shooting the enemy while I make busy, carrying out calculations on estate expenditures and negotiating tenant disputes.”

“So that is the way of it, then? You wield a pen, I wield a sword, and the hijinks come to an end?” Neddy crossed his legs and squinted out the window. “We have a last few months for youthful fun.”

“And ladies.”

“And sheep dyeing.”

“Boys,” came a deep voice. The twins’ heads spun around to face their father. Bingley smiled, his sleepy eyes full of affection for his angelic young men.

“When you dye the sheep, be sure to use the shade of blue favored by the Boat Club. It will throw suspicion away from you.” He winked.

“Father!” came the shocked cry.

“It was Uncle Darcy’s idea,” Bingley snorted. “You do amuse us, you know.” He leaned forward and patted their knees. “Now let an old man sleep. You’ve worn me out these many years. And remember, just these few months left for your fun.”

A gentle snore filled the carriage interior.

“Well played, Father. Well played.”
SubjectAuthorPosted

The Better Angels of Their Nature

jancatJune 03, 2016 04:42PM

Re: The Better Angels of Their Nature

Sarah WaldockJuly 21, 2016 11:04PM

Re: The Better Angels of Their Nature

Meg EAugust 28, 2016 02:24AM

Re: The Better Angels of Their Nature

KentJune 05, 2016 04:14PM

Lovely! (nfm)

BrigidJune 05, 2016 04:06AM

Re: The Better Angels of Their Nature

Shannon KJune 04, 2016 11:29PM

Re: The Better Angels of Their Nature

LucieJune 03, 2016 09:24PM

(Horrifying boys!) You wrote them well!!!

elleJune 03, 2016 08:14PM

Re: (Horrifying boys!) You wrote them well!!!

Michelle AnneJune 05, 2016 04:38AM



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