Convention and Curiosity,
or Fear and Fervour
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in want of a wife must, at Mrs Elizabeth Darcy's feet, learn to have high expectations.
While, to my Uncle James' annoyance, I continued to view marriage as a necessary evil which did not need to be rushed into, when an acquaintance offered to make me a part of his party travelling to the Darcys' house, Pemberley, in Derbyshire, I accepted with an alacrity born of sheer curiosity.
'Mr Bodie,' Mrs Cox, the wife of my acquaintance said, leaning forward to perhaps let me examine the embroidered detailing on her lowcut bodice, 'I am so glad that you will join us, sir. I always think that travelling together is by far the best way to really get to know a friend.'
Travelling together, Mrs Cox? 'Delightful,' I agreed. 'And Mrs Darcy will not mind you bringing a stranger to her house?'
'Her generosity is legendary, and I am sure you will not embarrass us.' Mrs Cox batted her eyelids at me, emphasising her words with the point of her needle against my thigh. 'As for all that, I have only met Mrs Darcy briefly, at our wedding service. It is Cox who is their particular friend.'
'Many of Mrs Darcy's qualitys are legendary...' At my musing words, I caught a jealous gleam in Mrs Cox's eyes. 'She is said to be,' I continued, standing to join Mr Cox at the mantlepiece, 'all that is perfection in a woman and a wife.'
'Yes,' Cox agreed, eyeing his own wife with a little dissatisfaction. 'I'd have no quarrel with that description.'
'Sir, you are not very gallant!'
I left Mr and Mrs Cox to their domestic bliss, and walked back to my townhouse. That is another thing that annoys my uncle -- that I walk the London streets. I have told him hair-raising stories of Lisbon streets, Cairo streets to prove how tame our own are, but he never seems to find my comparisons edifying.
I could, however, understand his worries. Uncle James had been the youngest son born into a family burgeoning in both descendants and prosperity, but by the time he'd come of age, an amazing run of bad luck had curtailed the dynasty. Of my uncle's five brothers and sisters, only two had borne children before dying. My only cousin had been drowned along with her parents when the ship they had taken for France a few years previously had been wrecked. The remaining Bodie fortune, following some poor luck in that area as well, was more than sufficient to keep two bachelors in style, but my uncle was relying on my charms alone to enable me to make a sensible and profitable marriage.
Other than my unwillingness to court the young ladies Uncle James kept introducing me to, the family's ill luck seemed to have passed me by. This only made my uncle even more nervous, especially when I would not lead the restrained and quiet life he would have preferred. 'You're tempting fate, William,' he would lecture me. I bore his worries with as good a grace as a thirty year old man can muster when being treated like a child who needs the back of his nursemaid's hand.
At least Uncle James approved of my visit to Pemberley. 'There are still two of the Bennett sisters who are unwed,' he pointedly told me. 'though as to fortune, they are not so eligible. Unfortunately, I don't expect you'd be likely to attract the young Darcy girl.' I sighed, and assured him I would look into the whole matter.
It was ten days later when I at last made the acquaintance of Mrs Elizabeth Darcy and her elder sister, Mrs Jane Bingley. Their reputations had not done them justice, I was forced to admit. If I had met these ladies before Fitzwilliam Darcy and Charles Bingley had snapped them up, then Uncle James would have had no cause to complain of my tardiness when it came to the game of courtship. As it was, I settled into Pemberley to happily learn more of these enchanting and entertaining creatures.
One morning, perhaps two days later, Mr Darcy had asked me to accompany him on a ride around his estates. He was pleasant company, being an intelligent and cultured man -- though my uncle would have loved him best for his restraint, I couldn't help but reflect, unable to hide the ungenerous smile that threatened me.
Mr Darcy, catching me out, smiled in return, his eyes sparking at some thought. 'Mr Bodie, I am afraid that I have some rather bad news for you.'
His smile deepened. 'Unfortunately you will no longer be allowed to monopolise the attentions of my wife and her sister.'
It was difficult to know exactly how to reply to that. At least he wasn't acting the jealous husband; I've seen enough of them to easily recognise the symptoms. Unless under all that reserve and coolness... I could tell from Mrs Darcy alone that still waters, in her husband's case, could run very deep. Eventually I said, as lightly as I felt appropriate, 'Sir, you break my heart.'
'It is not I who will distract them from you, Mr Bodie,' Darcy continued, as close to laughing at me as I could imagine him ever being. 'A friend of theirs will be arriving today, to complete our party -- a Mr Doyle. He is a charming man, Mr Bodie, and I fear will prove to be strong competition.'
'Alas.' I replied, with a surprising element of regret, 'it is a competition that you and Mr Bingley have already won. The rest of us may only envy you.'
He bowed in acceptance of the compliment, and we rode on.
When we eventually returned to the house, Darcy and I left the horses with the groom and walked directly to the morning room. From outside, we could distinctly hear Mrs Darcy's delightful laughter. Darcy raised an amused eyebrow at me before letting us in.
'Raymond, you are wicked,' Mrs Bingley was complaining, trying not to join in Mrs Darcy's amusement.
' Me wicked, Jane? I was sorely used through the entire incident. I fancy that the lady was the wicked party in the tale.'
'Mr Doyle.' Darcy said, 'are you telling the ladies inappropriate stories again? Some of your tales that Elizabeth has related to me, made me blush.'
'Fitzwilliam! How are you?' Doyle came over to shake Darcy's hand enthusiastically.
'You find me very well. Allow me to introduce a friend of Mr Cox -- Mr William Bodie, this is Mr Raymond Doyle.'
'Pleased to make your acquaintance,' he said, shaking my hand in turn.
'The pleasure is mine,' I responded automatically, taking him in with a sweep of my eyes. It was easy to see why the ladies were indulgent -- Doyle had a fine slim figure, a head of unruly auburn curls and wide set green eyes. His face, though not handsome, was captivating in its unusualness, and his manner was open and engaging.
'You mustn't judge me immediately, Mr Bodie,' Doyle was saying. 'Our host and hostess will have you believing me to be a very inappropriate person to be brought to your notice.'
'Then I will reserve my judgement until I can do you justice, sir.'
It didn't take long to become more familiar with Doyle's character, as the two of us spent most of our time together with Mrs Darcy and Mrs Bingley, playfully vying for their attention. The ladies seemed to enjoy our company and our mock battle, and were very even-handed and proper in dispensing their favours. Doyle began to believe that he had a serious rival for their friendship.
'Anyone could see,' he said one night as we sat up late and alone over port and cigars, 'that you would have less trouble in gaining Mrs Cox's indulgence.'
'It might be an easy task, my friend, but the rewards do not tempt me. Besides, Cox is a friend.'
'Scruples, Bodie? You surprise me.'
'I have a few. As do you.'
'And particular tastes -- Mrs Cox is a pretty enough woman but, like you, I prefer to press my chances elsewhere.'
'You have far too many of those scruples to take advantage of your welcome here, Doyle: don't pretend otherwise. You are not about to attempt an intrigue with either of the ladies.'
'And I would never be successful if I did make the attempt.' He shrugged, acknowledging the truth with a wide smile. 'I have good friends here, that is why I love Pemberley. I take my pleasures elsewhere.'
'So I hear. That story about the lady at Covington, for instance... How much of that do you owe to your imagination?'
'None! In fact, I left out some of the particularly interesting details, due to the fair listener's delicate ears. Even Mrs Darcy can be shocked.' It didn't take much coaxing to have him tell me the full story. And then I told him about one of my escapades. And so it went on for an hour or more. 'Last time I stayed here, there was a serving girl at the inn in Lambton who --'
'When I was in Cairo, there was this dance the girls would do that even startled me, until --'
'-- she was only fifteen, and as innocent as a newborn child, but she wanted what she barely knew about. All it took was a kiss one evening --'
Finally, stupified by the late hour and by having found someone who could more than match all my adventures with the fairer sex, I blurted out, 'There was this young man in a brothel in Athens --' and came to an abrupt halt.
'Well, Mr Bodie, you have the advantage of me there,' Doyle said lightly into the silence. 'I do believe that you've won this little contest.'
I found my voice with an effort. 'I apologise for mentioning such a matter.'
'But you are probably talking to the one person in the household who would be interested in hearing the story.' I met his gaze for a long moment -- he seemed as easy and friendly as he had always been. 'Why, Bodie, you look pale as death.'
'I had better retire.' I stood, a little shakily.
'I assure you, sir, you have no need to doubt my friendship. Nothing we have spoken about tonight will be heard by any other.'
'Forgive me,' I said uncomfortably, 'but this was something that I discovered in Europe. And I thought that I had left it there.'
'I confess that it is something that has aroused my curiosity ere now. Will you not tell me the story?'
'No.' I walked to the door before remembering my manners. 'Good night, sir. I thank you for your company.'
'Good night, Bodie.'
I lay awake for most of the night, wondering at my mindless blunder and its possible consequences. The following morning, my natural discomfort at being in Doyle's company again only worsened my unrested appearance.
'Are you not well, Mr Bodie?' Mrs Darcy enquired as I sat by her with a smaller breakfast than I usually indulged myself with. 'I fear you might not wish to accompany us on our outing today.'
'No, it is simply that I did not sleep well, thank you. I am sure the fresh air will do me good,' I hastily replied. Anything rather than mope around in a strange house, I thought.
'I am afraid that I kept Bodie up rather late last night, along with your excellent port, Fitzwilliam. It is all my fault, ladies, that one of your admirers is not looking at his most handsome this morning.'
'I wonder what your motive could have been, Raymond,' Darcy commented dryly.
'It does not matter, because he did not succeed,' Mrs Darcy said archly. 'Never mind, Mr Bodie. We will ply Doyle with hock at our picnic luncheon, and see how he looks afterwards.'
'Elizabeth!' Doyle cried. 'You were never this wicked to me.' While I was looking and feeling so dull, it was further insult to injury to observe that Doyle's bottle green velvet riding coat only enhanced the brilliancy of his emerald eyes.
I concentrated on my breakfast, and when the travelling arrangements for our outing were discussed, gratefully volunteered to ride. So it was that the ladies and Cox took an open carriage, Darcy and Doyle rode behind them, deep in conversation, and I followed alone a little way further back.
Despite my restless night, the beautiful countryside and the fresh Summer day began to relieve my gloom. By the time the party had reached its destination, I had regained my composure and my smile.
We settled on a grassy slope, in the shade of some oaks, the ladies gracefully seated on blankets. Within a few minutes Cox asked Darcy to walk down to the nearby river with him, no doubt to see whether it was worth unpacking his fishing tackle after our luncheon.
'I'd like to stretch my legs, too, if you'll give me leave, ladies,' Doyle said.
'Why, Raymond, it is not like you to not take advantage of our husbands' absence,' Mrs Darcy laughed. 'You mean to let Mr Bodie have our full attention?'
'Actually, I thought I would invite him to accompany me.'
'Well, be on your way, gentlemen. But mind you be back within the hour, or we will have your share of the luncheon.'
Doyle stood from where he'd been kneeling by Mrs Darcy. 'Coming, Bodie?'
'Sir.' I bowed to the ladies and followed him up through the oaks behind us. We had soon topped the rise and wandered down into the valley behind.
'A beautiful area, is it not?'
'Yes, indeed.' We walked on, content and comfortable enough to not continue with the polite conversation that others found necessary. Content, that is, until I heard footsteps and an exclamation behind us. 'Mrs Cox!' I hissed at Doyle.
'Oh lord.' Looking around, he quickly took my arm and pulled me through some thicker undergrowth and out of sight. He lifted a finger to his lips, smiling widely, as we listened to Mrs Cox approach and then pass by our hiding place. My companion's now familiar features were most attractive when diffused with such wicked merriment. It was long minutes before the intruder passed out of our hearing, and then more before he spoke. 'She is determined to win you over, Bodie.'
'She'll soon learn what determination is,' I muttered.
'You are not very generous, sir,' he said, only half in mockery.
'Doyle, she must be quite mad to run around after me like this. The ladies, and Mr Cox if he returns in her absence, will know exactly her purpose. She will at best embarrass herself, and at worst...'
'The credit is of course owing to your overwhelming attractions,' Doyle said lightly.
'Very amusing,' I responded. He smiled at me again, and beckoned me to walk again in another direction. For the hour allotted us, we wandered the countryside, talking as if we only had that much time to become better acquainted. I could only be grateful that Doyle was still prepared to regard me as a gentleman. 'And how is it that you never married?' he asked as we turned to make our way back to the rest of the party. 'Are you such a confirmed old bachelor?'
'I would consider myself to be still in the market for a wife, although I suppose at thirty years of age, I should soon be starting to search in earnest. My uncle would like it.'
'Most uncles would. And what would you be searching for?'
'I am afraid that I must be governed by prudent motives, Mr Doyle -- the lady must be well endowed in more than character and beauty.'
'Despite being a younger son, I am happy to say that I do not have to take that into consideration.'
'Then you have a wider field to choose from. How is it that you have not married?'
'There was a girl, I confess, when I was nineteen, that I wanted to marry. But the match wasn't considered to be the best possible by either of our families, and it did not eventuate. I think I was a little in love with her, but was too stupid to try to engage her without my family's consent. I didn't start looking around again for some years, and when I did, I found there to be one major problem.'
'What was that?'
'Why, all the girls come out into society at sixteen, and are considered old maids at twenty if they are not married. There are precious few unmarried ladies of our own age who are eligible for consideration, and I've never met a sixteen year old girl yet that I could live with.'
'All I have to do is look at some poor fool like Cox, and I feel I may never oblige my uncle.'
'We understand each other well, Bodie.' We exchanged a satisfied smile, though his expression faded after a moment. 'But do you never feel lonely? That seems to be the only drawback to being single. Friends and family I have in plenty, but I often wonder if I am missing something that Darcy, for instance, has in abundance.'
'No need to wonder at that -- Darcy has definitely more happiness in his life than you or I. But women such as Mrs Darcy are few and far between. We must simply hope to meet such as there are.'
'I am convinced there are none that are not already married.'
I laughed. 'You are too pessimistic by half, Doyle. There must be some sensible women of your acquaintance, or who could be introduced to you, who are still single. If the means of marrying have been wanting, it does not necessarily follow that the woman is ineligible. You might even suppose that such women as we would admire, may not be considered suitable by a great many other men.' He remained silent. 'Come, if all else fails, there are many young widows in the world. And as for the girls but lately come out, there must be some who are acceptable -- I have heard that Miss Darcy herself is a mature woman, though only just turned nineteen.'
'Ah, but Darcy takes prodigious care not to recommend me to her.' Doyle shot me a mischievous glance, but I refused to be diverted. 'All right, you have found me out, sir. These are excuses that my family and friends find plausible, and I repeat them whenever necessary.'
'Let me hear the truth, then.'
'In truth, I own that I have as sentimental a nature as a girl still in the school room. I could love someone, I could unite our souls, but I see this sort of love occur so little in the conventional marriage, that I cannot believe the institution would suit me.'
'Where else, then, would you find such love?'
'I do not have the first idea,' he replied, his spirits growing depressed for the first time since I had met him. 'Maybe I will continue to throw some measure of my emotions away in trifling affairs that do not touch my heart, and when I die whatever remains will make my spirit restless. Will you like my ghost to haunt you, Bodie?'
I hardly knew how to answer his sorry attempt at humour. We continued in silence as we neared the rest of the party and sat down by them. Doyle's unhappiness could not go unnoticed by the others for long. 'Whatever have you done to Raymond, Mr Bodie?' Mrs Darcy enquired. 'This is very unlike him.'
'We were speaking of all the misfortunes of being single. I feel quite dispirited myself.'
'Misfortunes?' Darcy exclaimed. 'I thought rather that the pair of you enjoyed the state immensely.'
I thought that I had left us open to some teasing, but the others soon talked of more cheerful topics. As for me, I bore Doyle's silence and brooding gaze with understanding. He looked particularly well that day, despite his woebegone expression, as the ladies all noticed, especially when he threw himself back to lay amongst the grass. But then, possessing such a slim figure which could only be shown to advantage by such snugly fitting trousers, he was bound to draw attention.
He rode beside me on the way home. 'I must conclude that friendship is the only answer to my troubles. Friends such as you and the Darcys provide me with joy.'
'It is kind of you to say so,' I replied, bowing a little.
'It is kinder of you to indulge my moods, sir. But I have changed my mind. When I die, I think I shall haunt Pemberley -- it is so comfortable. You must promise to visit me there!'
It was perhaps three days later that I found myself sitting up late with Doyle again, but over Darcy's excellent brandy this time. I was a little melancholy, as my visit to Pemberley was drawing to a close. Mr and Mrs Cox were due to return to London in two days, and I must accompany them.
'I hope that we may see each other in London, Bodie. Are you living there now?'
'Yes, my uncle is tending to our estate alone this season. And yourself?'
'Yes, I will be in London. After my disappointment with the ladies at nineteen, I went to Oxford and studied the law. I work for a few months of every year -- I am not quite such a creature of leisure as you may have supposed.'
'Do you enjoy London or the country best?'
'I enjoy them equally for three months at a time, and then I become restless for wherever I am not.' I laughed at these feelings which so coincided with mine. 'But I must own, there are more pleasures of a certain sort to be found in the city. You must find it so.' He waited for my agreement, and topped up our glasses of brandy. 'That matter you mentioned the other night,' he began; 'the more unconventional pleasures to be found in Europe. You will not like me for raising it again.'
'Your curiosity leads you to strange topics of conversation, sir. Unwelcome topics.'
'Will you not indulge my curiosity? Though you will think me a peculiar kind of friend if I insist, I know.' My silence only encouraged him. 'I wondered if you had really wanted to leave such things behind. There are establishments in London that I know of --'
'Why do you not indulge your curiosity there, then, and quit plaguing me about it?'
'I wondered if it was not simply embarrassment that made you avoid the topic.'
'What else would it be, sir?'
'Perhaps that some part of you wishes not to leave it behind.'
'You are trying my patience.'
'I feel that the topic has been much on your mind lately.'
'Because I could not believe my foolishness in introducing it in the first place. I have been understandably uncomfortable.'
'There was a reason, was there not, for the idea springing to your mind?' I shook my head in the negative. 'Allow me for the moment to trust that there was. Sir,' he said gently, as if about to break some bad news to me, 'you and I, we are not made for the conventional life, for marriage and such. We agree, at least, on that.'
I met his direct gaze with difficulty. 'You now know what we are made for, then?'
'I was hoping to explore a theory of mine, to see if we might not be made for each other.'
My head reeled. This was possibly the very last thing that I had ever thought to hear in an English dining room. It was only when I placed Doyle firmly out of my sight, by removing to stand by the mantlepiece, that I could find enough voice to reply. 'And what put such a thought into your head, sir?'
'It is purely logical, Bodie. I hoped that I had brought the idea to your mind when first you saw me -- you seemed very admiring, and there had to be a reason for your confession a few nights later, however unwittingly it was made. The feelings that I had had previously for other men, even though I had not found the courage or the means to indulge them as you have, made me realise what my hopes were based on. The fact is, my friend, that I find you to be the most attractive man of all my acquaintance. And, while neither of us will avoid a pretty lady, we seem most disinclined to marry any. All this could lead me to but one conclusion -- that we may stand a fair chance of making each other happy.'
'Is that so? I do not follow your logic, sir.'
'Do not, or will not?' His voice sounded close behind me, and I stiffened at its caressing tone. 'You are needlessly stubborn about the whole issue.'
'Then find the logical reason for my stubbornness. I cannot make you happy, I cannot give you any sort of love other than my friendship. That I give you freely, sir, if you will only drop this conversation.'
'I have seen you watch me, with an expression that I cannot place any other interpretation on. You are a gentleman -- of course you struggle against that which society tells you is wrong. But I tell you that what we might find together could not be wrong, if we are happy. Will you not try what I offer, and then make your decision as to which is the most wrong? All I ask is that you give me a chance.'
'If you are my friend. Raymond,' I said over the labouring of my heart, 'you will do me the honour of taking my refusal as my final word on the matter, and you will not mention this again.'
'William, permit me to insist --' he started.
'No,' I said firmly. I turned to face him. 'And if you are my friend, you will not call me William -- just Bodie will do nicely. It rings clearer in my ears.'
'Do not dismiss me like this. I am convinced that our happiness may depend on each other. Will you not take me seriously?'
'I do take you seriously. It is simply that I cannot comply with your request. It is you who will not take me seriously.'
'I cannot help but think that if I touched you now, your arguments would be forgotten. That gives me the courage to continue.'
'If you will insist on such proof of my indifference, I urge you to take it.' I stared at him with eyes of steel. It was a bluff, I could finally acknowledge that to myself, but I was an excellent poker player and I had successfully bluffed harder men than Doyle.
'You would treat me this coldly?' he asked quietly. 'And yet I still believe in your love for me. I cannot believe you so rigidly bound in convention that you mean to throw me off just to remain unhappy but acceptable to society.'
'Try me, and you hurt only yourself.' To his credit, he did not falter, though tears had sprung to his eyes. My last words were a lie, of course -- his hurt caused me pain. I had hardly known my own character until that moment, but knowing is not necessarily accepting.
I kept my stony composure as his hand slid across my waist, as he drew closer, as he pressed a kiss to my cold cheek. Even as he wrapped both arms around me, eased his long body against mine.
But as his caresses grew bolder, I found that I was not quite the poker player I had thought, and I abruptly broke away from his embrace. 'It is ludicrous to even consider this here, in Pemberley, in England! You insult your friends by touching me under their roof. You propose that we start a liaison that would be illegal. How exactly were you going to arrange it? I, for one, do not wish to leave myself open to blackmail from my servants and acquaintances. I do not wish to risk going to gaol in such disgrace.'
'We would have to be very careful, I know. Perhaps we could spend some time overseas, where we would not be breaking the law. I had hoped that we could live together in London. Bodie, there would be problems, but they would not be insurmountable. Other people do this, you know, and lead quite normal lives.'
'You must be mad.'
'A little feverish, maybe. I put it down to being in love.'
'Raymond, you are too disconcerting -- I turned away again, trying to breath deeply enough to calm myself. 'Can we at least wait to discuss this further? Will you meet me in London, at my townhouse perhaps? This is the wrong place entirely, and I am in no mood to be brave at present.'
'Of course,' he replied softly, more sure of me than I was myself. 'All I wanted tonight was that you should acknowledge the feelings that we share.'
'I do acknowledge those feelings,' I said, aware as I did so that I had changed the course of my life irrevocably. My voice was at its most formal when it should have been warm. 'But if you would allow me some time to myself, if you would let me retire now, I would be grateful.'
He was silent for a moment, before whispering, 'Just, please, touch me before we part. So that when I wake I won't think that this was just a dream.'
'Your friends would be disgusted if they knew their dining room was so polluted.'
'If they had the first idea of how I feel for you, of how happy you will make me, I think they might understand.'
'Are you insane? If you turn this into one of your tales to entertain Mrs Darcy...'
'Don't think me so incautious, Bodie. We both know how secret this has to be. You have no need to fear me, I promise.' And he continued, voice low and unwittingly seductive. 'Touch me, so that I can remember your love until we can meet in London.'
I turned to face him, and allowed myself for the first time to truly see his beauty. He was as bewitching by candlelight as he was by sunlight, by moonlight, by firelight. 'Come here,' I invited. When he drew close, I enfolded him in my arms and kissed him full on his generous mouth. Raymond was more intoxicating in person, than my banished dreams of him had even come close to. I lifted my head, took a long shuddering breath, and was finally able to let him go. 'I begin to fancy,' I said, 'that your company will be worth all the tribulations that we will no doubt suffer.'
He seemed speechless, but agreed to my words with a slight bow. I left him for the night, and went to sit alone in my room.
Still unable to minimise all the dangers and folly of this new relationship, Raymond's embrace had at least given me something good and solid to set against my fears and prejudices. I thought with equal conviction of both the unnaturalness and the attractions of this liaison, of both the great happiness and the catastrophe it may cause me. I pondered the somewhat unreal notion that I was to already burn in Hell for my transgressions, and decided that I had as well suffer for eternity for something as wonderful as this love may prove to be. It was an oddly cleansing feeling, to so determinedly throw my lot in with the Damned. At the end of the night, I was left with the strange comfort of knowing that I would finally be true to myself, and true to Raymond as well, if to no one else. Which was two less than the number of people that I had been lying to at any other time in my thirty years.
My head ached by the time that I joined my friends for breakfast -- I had not had to rearrange my life and my beliefs so thoroughly at any other time since I was born. Raymond, knowing that I had had so many ideas to work through, looked at me anxiously when I first walked in, but my smile soon reassured him that I had not yet turned coward. That day we were both quiet, politely taking part in the party's occupations together, barely even conversing with each other, but content in our companionship. I knew that I should be happy rather than feeling it to be so.
On the following day Mr and Mrs Cox took me back to London, and within the week, Doyle visited me there. If his kiss and embrace at Pemberley had helped me to answer my initial fears, then the glories of having him in my bed more than settled any lingering uncertainty. This was what I wanted, and no man would ever convince me that it was anything but good and proper. A marriage, Doyle insisted on calling our liaison, a union of souls, and the only blessing either of us required was that of the other's love. He soon accused me of sharing his sentimentality and, to my surprise, I found that I could not argue with him on that score.
As Doyle had suggested, we took an extended tour of Europe. the better to disguise our new love. When we returned to England, I studied for a while at Oxford, to take a second degree in the law, and then worked with Doyle in his barrister's office. My friends determined on viewing my changed lifestyle as caused by the inevitable seriousness which comes with advancing age, an opinion that I simply had to live with. The rumours of our intrigues with various women continued to circulate for a while, but soon faded clear away. We were in general thought to be quite a respectable pair of old bachelors!
To my surprise, Doyle soon introduced me to a pair of his male friends who were living together in London in exactly the same circumstances as us. It took me a while to feel comfortable with their acquaintance, I admit this to my shame, but they have proved to be valuable and staunch friends. Between the four of us, we have had the ingenuity to successfully combat time and again any threats to our fragile happiness.
My Uncle James, finally despairing of my ever marrying, though he would never know the true reason, married well and produced the desired Bodie heir himself. Doyle and I had therefore my young cousins and all his nieces and nephews on whom we could squander our paternal feelings. It was enough of a family to suit us both!
We were invited to Pemberley for a few weeks each year, and never failed to visit for as long as we felt that we could trespass on their welcome. The Darcys, already among Doyle's few closest friends, grew to love me as much as they loved him. The house where we had met, the parks and countryside in which we had first admired each other and fallen in love, never lost their beauty for us.
-- THE END --
Originally published in Other Times and Places, OTP Press, 1990