When I was writing Mr. Darcy's Secret I was lucky enough to take a trip to Derbyshire for inspiration and research. In my book Elizabeth Bennet's aunt, Mrs. Gardiner, has a friend, Mrs. Butler, who lives in Lambton. We know, of course, that Mrs. Gardiner lived in Lambton herself once upon a time so I assumed she would have made friends there.
I stayed in the village of Beeley on the Chatsworth estate and it was here that I was very taken with the house below which I thought would be a good starting point for Mrs. Butler's house. Although not quite exactly as the house I'd imagined in my head, it certainly ran on similar lines. I'd imagined a stone house with mullioned windows - perhaps a little more set back from the road, a little larger in size, and with a grander front door, but I was very pleased with this one nevertheless.
I've included the extract from Mr. Darcy's Secret which describes Elizabeth and Georgiana Darcy calling on Mrs. Butler with Mrs. Gardiner. I hope you enjoy it!
Georgiana was delighted to join the party that set out next morning after breakfast, driving along in the carriage away from Pemberley taking the road to Lambton. The three women travelled alone with the coachman and his boy, leaving Mr Darcy and Mr Gardiner to their shooting and all the little Gardiners to their lessons with their governess.
“Thank you so very much for inviting me, Mrs Gardiner,” said Georgiana. “I’m rather embarrassed to admit that I am not really acquainted with anyone in the village, though I’ve always longed to have more friends in the area. But having been in London for such a long time meant I did not have the opportunity to meet with many people round about, apart from the families that called when I was here in the summer.”
“There is no reason why you should be acquainted with anyone in Lambton, Miss Darcy,” replied Mrs Gardiner. “I know the circles you have moved in all your life are very different to those of my own and I am sure there was never the chance to enjoy a very wide society.”
Georgiana looked thoughtful. “I do remember my brother telling me that my mother was very conscientious in her duties and often called in the village especially on the needy and sick. It is a practice I would like to rejuvenate; I know my mother was very well regarded in Lambton. What do you think, Elizabeth? Would you like to revive the habit?”
“If any two people can undertake such work with sensibility and discernment, I am sure you both can,” said Mrs Gardiner. “There is always someone or something that needs attention in a place like this, where those who do fall on hard times often find it difficult to ask for largesse.”
The carriage turned into the High Street and Elizabeth could not help noticing the excitement their arrival was causing amongst the inhabitants going about their business. Being Mrs Darcy was going to take some getting used to, she decided, as she witnessed passers by nudging one another, curtseying or bowing and doffing caps, as they travelled the length of the thoroughfare to a good-sized stone house with gables set back from the road.
“Here we are, I am so looking forward to seeing my friend, though I have to tell you, it shall be a visit tinged with sadness,” declared Mrs Gardiner. “Dear Mrs Butler’s lovely husband passed away last year. He was a naval captain until his health took a turn for the worse and an upstanding member of the community, always willing to help those less fortunate than himself. He succumbed to consumption after a long illness and poor Martha is left quite alone. Her only surviving son has gone to seek his fortune in London and is doing well, I believe, and although he has tried to persuade his mother to join him there, she would never consider leaving Derbyshire or the home she shared with John.”
“I have not seen him for some time, but I do remember that he was the very image of his father and with the same gentle ways. I know he would have tried very hard to persuade his mother to join him.”
The coachman was at the door in a moment and the ladies stepped down to make their way along the flagged path leading up to the house with its central door set between mullioned windows. They were soon shown into a comfortable yet old-fashioned parlour furnished in country style. On one side of the gleaming mahogany fireplace was an oak dresser displaying a wealth of pewter, illuminated by the bright flames of the fire in the grate, and in the opposite corner, a grandfather clock with a painted face of flowers and cupids stood ticking the hours away. Placed before the hearth an ancient settee draped in chintz and a sturdy settle adorned with blue check cushions were arranged to make the best use of the heat of the coals.
Martha Butler bade them sit down after the introductions and immediately addressed the Darcy women, telling them what an honour it was to receive them. “And to see you again, Mrs Gardiner, after all these years and under such splendid circumstances. I cannot think of anything that would have pleased you better than to see your niece as mistress of Pemberley. Lambton was always so dear to your heart and now you have an excellent excuse to visit us both very often, I hope.”
“I am very lucky to have been invited to stay so soon and I hope to visit you often, my dear friend,” Mrs Gardiner replied.
Mrs Butler glanced at Georgiana who despite herself could not help look with fascination at everything around the room. “It’s a very queer room, is it not, Miss Darcy?”
“Oh, Mrs Butler, on the contrary, it is a lovely room, but you must think me so rude for staring.”
“Not at all, my dear, and if there is anything takes your fancy for a closer scrutiny, I hope you will have a look. See these old panels on the walls? My late husband rescued them from a ship he served in that was broken up for scrap. I never felt so far away from him when he was at sea, so long as I could see these lovely pieces of timber worked on and polished by his own hand to fit into my parlour.”
“Mr Butler was a skilled carpenter as well as being an admirable sea captain,” joined in Mrs Gardiner. “I remember he made you a sewing box on your marriage, a most beautiful object to my mind.”
“I have it still, though it is locked in the cupboard this morning. I’ll fetch it out in a minute, Miss Darcy, and you can see what my husband had to keep himself occupied on during those long days on board ship when he was a mere midshipman.”
At that moment the party heard the sound of the front door shutting and a man’s voice booming with cheerful resonance to the maid in the hall.
“Oh, my goodness me, I quite forgot to tell you in all my excitement in seeing you again,” Mrs Butler declared, her face lighting up with pleasure. “Master Thomas is home for a holiday. He has just finished on a scheme of work at Lord Featherstone’s house in Richmond, but I expect he will tell you all about it himself.”
Just as she spoke, the door of the parlour opened to admit a tall young man with an air of affable good nature and with such pleasing looks that Georgiana, who had started to become quite at ease, felt quite unequal to meet the eyes of those which alighted so eagerly upon her countenance.
© Jane Odiwe Mr. Darcy's Secret 2011