A Question of Succession

The soft morning sun cast a soothing glow over the Pemberley breakfast table. Elizabeth stifled a yawn and helped herself to another slice of pound cake. Her head was less sore than it had been when she awoke, but it was still throbbing regularly in time with the clock on the mantelpiece. On mornings like these, she was grateful for her husband’s habitual taciturnity. However, at that point, Fitzwilliam Darcy gave a little cough, and her ears pricked up in response.

‘Are you quite well, my dear?’ he asked. ‘You seem a little distracted this morning.’

‘I am perfectly well, my beloved,’ she reassured him. ‘However, I fear I did not sleep at all well last night.’

‘Ah,’ said her husband, satisfied with her reply. She could tell that he hadn’t quite finished, and a few moments later, there was another discreet cough.

‘I have to go to London for a few days today,’ he remarked.

‘So soon after your last visit?’

‘Yes, my dear. Business.’

‘Really? You gentlemen certainly know how to enjoy yourselves.’

As usual, she could tell from his face that he wasn’t entirely certain as to whether he should treat this comment at face value or as a joke.

‘Indeed,’ he concluded after some thought. ‘We do. However, I am sure you do not wish our breakfast to be sullied with tiresome talk about investments and suchlike.’

‘I most certainly do not,’ agreed Elizabeth, with some feeling. Silence hung in the air for a few moments longer, and then her husband coughed again. She almost made some comment about getting the physician in to see if there was anything that could be done for him, but thought better of it.

‘I . . . I have been giving some thought to another pressing matter,’ said Mr Darcy. He seemed reluctant to elucidate.

‘Go on,’ Elizabeth urged him.

‘As you will be aware,’ he continued, ‘my estate is worth in excess of ten thousand pounds a year,. It is therefore incumbent on me, now that I have a wife, to consider . . . to consider . . . the question of succession.’

‘Meaning?’ said Elizabeth, raising one eyebrow.

‘Meaning I wish to . . . I wish to . . . re-open the question of an heir.’

Elizabeth considered this for a moment or two. ‘My dear Fitzy, I would be very happy to assist in this. Although, from what I understand, the procedure would of necessity require both of us to be involved — indeed, that both of us should be in considerable proximity to each other for the duration of the procedure. And if you intend to be in London for the foreseeable future, this would seem to pose an insurmountable barrier to such a conception.’

Mr Darcy came close to smiling at this. ‘My dear Elizabeth, you tease me,’ he said. ‘It can wait until my return.’ He gave her a meaningful look. ‘And when we . . . would you . . . would you mind . . . wearing that — ?’

‘The one with the — ?’

‘Yes, yes, that one. That one. Yes, that’s the one.’

He was deep in thought again. ‘And would you like me to — ?’

‘No, no, it’s quite all right,’ she replied, and then instantly regretted her hasty negative. Though even in the summer months, the wet shirt was becoming a bit of a dampener on proceedings.