Mr Darcy's Secret


Chapter One

With little exception, the anticipation of a long-awaited and desirous event will always give as much if not more pleasure than the diversion itself. Moreover, it is a certain truth that however gratifying such an occasion may prove to be, it will not necessarily unite prospect and satisfaction in equal accord.
Mrs Bennet’s musings on the affairs of the day at Longbourn church were similarly divided. The ostrich feathers on her satin wedding hat quivered tremulously as she surveyed her surroundings with a self-satisfied air. Evening sunlight streamed through the long windows of the sitting room gilding her hair and silk pelisse, simultaneously burnishing the top of Mr Bennet’s polished pate with a halo of amber softness.
“Hardly has a day passed during the last twenty-three years when I have not thought about my daughters’ nuptials with the certain foreknowledge that my beautiful Jane and clever Lizzy would do their duty to their parents, their sisters, and themselves,” said Mrs Bennet to her husband on the day that her eldest daughters were married.
“Yes, my dear,” Mr Bennet replied with a wry smile, “even when you professed your resolution that they should both die old maids not two months ago, I am sure you knew better in your heart.”
“Such weddings as Longbourn and, indeed, the whole county have never seen before,” exclaimed Mrs Bennet fingering the new lace about her shoulders with an air of appreciation whilst ignoring her husband’s bemused comments. “Not that there were some matters that would have pleased me better had I been allowed to have a hand in the arrangements myself. I should have liked to host a party if I had been permitted, but Elizabeth did not think it fitting. I am sure our neighbours would greatly have appreciated the celebration, but who am I to be considered? I am only the mother of the brides married to two of the richest men in the kingdom! It is not as if it was a question of money. I am sure dear Darcy would have liked it if not for Elizabeth’s opposition. Still, it was something to see the condescension of our neighbours; I daresay Lady Lucas will not feel herself so superior now. But truly, nothing will vex me today; all has surpassed my greatest expectations.”
“I am glad to hear it, my dear, because without a doubt, if such long anticipation had been disappointed in some way, I am not entirely sure I could have borne the next twenty-three years with the same equanimity.”
“Who would have thought it, Mr Bennet,” said his lady talking over the top of him, “that I should live to see two of my daughters so exceptionally advantaged in married life?”
“Quite so, my dear,” replied he, “though I must add that however well placed I believed my daughters might find themselves, I had always planned on exceeding my own five and forty years to witness their felicity. Indeed, possessing the knowledge that your own long surviving line of aged relatives are still thriving as I speak, I must confess that I am a little astonished to think you had supposed to be dead before our daughters attained the matrimonial state.”
“Oh, Mr Bennet, you speak such nonsense. But you will not tease me out of my present happy disposition. And, I must say, I received some comfort from the fact that Miss Bingley and her sister Mrs Hurst were forced by a rightful sense of obligation and due civility to treat our family in the correct manner today. Oh, yes, Mr Bennet, I cannot tell you how much it gratified me to see the smug, self-satisfied expressions they generally display upon their ill-favoured countenances, quite wiped away. I thought Miss Bingley looked likely to choke when I turned to see Elizabeth and Jane walking down the aisle by your side.”
“I did not observe any greater condescension towards our family than that which they usually bestow, Mrs Bennet,” replied her spouse, “though I must admit I did not really pay them any great attention. My own thoughts and looks were only concerned with our dear girls.”
“What a double blow it must have been for Miss Bingley. I expect all the while she was hoping that Mr Darcy might break his promise to Elizabeth and leave her at the altar. And I am sure, whatever she might have said on welcoming Jane to the Bingley family, that the sincerity of her wishes was entirely false. Well, I cannot help feeling our advantage over those Bingley women. And Mr Darcy was as charming and obliging as ever. I think him quite superior to dear Mr Bingley in many ways, even if I hadn’t always liked him.”
“I’m sure Mr Darcy would be delighted to hear it.”
“I daresay he would, for he certainly needed to earn my good opinion after the way he strutted about Hertfordshire with his proud ways. However, I’m not entirely convinced by Lizzy’s partiality, whatever she might protest on his having been misunderstood and winning her round. A man ought to have a tongue in his head, indeed, especially a man of such consequence.”
“I should hate to hear you on the subject of despising a man if this is your approbation, Mrs Bennet. And I loathe to be contradicting you, once more, but I cannot agree with you. I believe Lizzy to be very much in love with Mr Darcy, as much in love, as dear Jane is with her Mr Bingley.”
“Well, I certainly think I might fancy myself in love if I knew I was married to the owner of Pemberley with a house in town and ten thousand a year, at least!”
“I am sure such good fortune helps love along. No doubt, my own prospects animated the feelings you had whilst we were courting.”
Mrs Bennet looked at her husband in exasperation. “Oh, Mr Bennet, it was nothing like the matter. There is no comparison. The wealth of Mr Darcy and Mr Bingley is a hundred times your consequence, as well you know. La! With Jane and Lizzy so well married; ’tis enough to make me distracted!”
“I am pleased to discover our poverty is in no way dispiriting to your outlook, my dear. But I cannot join you in your exertions. I find myself feeling most melancholy. I am delighted that I need not worry that our daughters will suffer any lack of wealth or hardship; but despite the satisfaction these assurances bring, I cannot help but add that I shall miss them very much.”
At this point Mrs Bennet burst into tears. “With my dearest Lydia so lately married and now Jane and Lizzy having left home, I shall have little to do, especially now Mary and Kitty will be gone to their sisters by the bye. I do not know what shall become of me; indeed, I do not. I shall be quite alone in this house with only my memories coupled with the dreadful understanding that William and Charlotte Collins are counting the days to your demise. What misfortune to have our estate entailed away for that odious pair to inherit. It is all Lady Lucas ever talks to me about these days: of her daughter’s delight at the prospect of being able to return one day into Hertfordshire.”
“Come, come now,” insisted Mr Bennet passing over a pocket handkerchief and rising from his seat with the intention of leaving the room. “I see no reason for tears. I am sure one or all of your daughters will accommodate you when that unhappy day befalls you and, until then, I flatter myself that you will have the comfort of knowing that you are not entirely alone. I am here, or at least I will be when I am not away.”
“Away! Do you intend to leave me, sir? Where are you going, Mr Bennet?”
“To Pemberley, of course,” came his emphatic reply.
“To Pemberley and you never said a word of it. But do you intend to go alone and without an invitation?”
Mr Bennet stroked his chin thoughtfully. “I suppose if you should wish to accompany me, then you may enjoy your share of the invitation.”
“An invitation! Has Lizzy invited us to Pemberley so soon?” asked Mrs Bennet, scarcely able to keep the astonishment out of her voice.
“No, Mr Darcy himself, no less,” came the triumphant answer, “has not only issued the invitation, but also expects us for Christmas!”

***

Elizabeth Darcy looked out of the carriage window, her spirits in high flutter as they crossed the ancient stone bridge on the road into Lambton village. Nestled at the foot of a hill, on the western side of the river, a number of stone cottages, a church, and a few handsome buildings formed the landscape. Her eyes were drawn to the rich and romantic scenery of the place, enhanced in beauty by the noble appearance of wood-clad hills, wreathed in mist on this damp, November morning. She could not help but remember her first journey to Lambton, accompanied by her uncle and aunt Gardiner on their northern tour. How different had her feelings been in August when the trees had been lush with greenery, the sunshine dazzling her eyes and burnishing her skin to tones of golden brown. Elizabeth recalled her feelings of dread at the thought of being in near vicinity to that of Mr Darcy and how she had feared visiting Pemberley, the house that was now to be her home. She laughed out loud.
“Are you happy, dearest Elizabeth?” Mr Darcy enquired, taking her hand between both of his and raising it to his lips to kiss her fingertips tenderly.
“I am indeed, though happiness was not the emotion at the forefront of my mind just now. I was engaged on other, quite dreadful recollections, I must admit.”
Fitzwilliam Darcy’s brows knitted together in consternation. He studied Elizabeth’s countenance noting her expression which had suddenly changed to display a look so serious and grave that he could hardly bear to witness it. “I shall never forgive myself for the things I said to you in the past nor for the way in which I behaved. I only trust that in time I shall make sufficient amendment. My wish is to make you feel as I do, to have you love me as I love you. Please, Elizabeth, do not dwell on such bleak remembrances.”
Mrs Darcy turned her face toward him and, being unable to look anything other than completely amused, caused her husband to look searchingly into the dark, fine eyes, which he so admired. “You have clearly forgotten some of my philosophy. Think only of the past as its remembrance gives you pleasure.” Elizabeth paused, her curls trembling as she suppressed the mirth bubbling inside. “I am teasing you, Fitzwilliam. I am perfectly happy to dwell on the memories of my first trip into Derbyshire, even if my initial feelings were concerned with mortification and distress. When I first set eyes on Lambton village, I could not help but think of you, and knowing that your estate was but five miles from here, with the possibility of you being in residence, was enough to overturn all my feelings.”
“Am I to deduce from this statement that you felt an inclination toward me that was beyond your own will? You always gave the impression of total disinterest, a self-sufficiency and aloofness. This description of your feelings gives quite a different picture. I think if you really had been so indifferent to me as I believed you were then, no such agitation could have been experienced. No one suffers anxiety when they are truly detached from feeling. I suspect that this distress you speak of was the deep acknowledgement that you were falling in love with me, regardless of your resolution to despise me forever.”
Elizabeth laughed again, her dark ringlets trembling prettily as she shook her head. “Oh, you insufferable, darling man. I hate to admit it, but I think there may be some element of truth in what you say, although I would certainly have denied it at the time. I felt most uncomfortable at the thought of looking around Pemberley, and yet, I was most curious to see the house where I could have been mistress, had I not turned down your wretched proposal.”
“Oh, do not remind me of that dreaded conversation at Hunsford.”
“No, I shall not be so cruel. Instead I shall remind you your second proposal was infinitely more acceptable to me, so much so, that I am sitting here, next to the man who has made me the happiest woman alive.”
“Have I made you happy, Elizabeth? I know we are just at the beginning of our life together and two days spent in exclusive company is hardly enough time for you to know whether or not you were right in your decision to accept me a second time. But, I hope you do not regret the outcome. I only want your happiness.”
“Mrs Reynolds is a very wise woman, I have come to believe.”
“Whatever do you mean?”
“Your housekeeper was the person who made me think again about my prejudice against you. Her description of you as the sweetest-tempered, most generous-hearted boy in the world could not be without foundation. She, who had known you since you were a child, had to know something of your true character. I suppose it was from that day my idea of you really changed. And what is more, I believe she was correct. I know now just how sweet-tempered you really can be.”
Mr Darcy smiled and looked into her eyes at that moment with such evident longing that she felt her cheeks blush. The pressure of his fingers upon her own increased and though she reciprocated with a returning squeeze, it was too much to sustain his gaze. She must keep something in reserve, Lizzy felt, or her husband’s vanity, so recently curbed and tamed, might stir again like a beast unleashed. In any case, it would be far more fun to keep him wondering quite how far her admiration for him extended. She turned once more to seek the view through the window, simultaneously extracting her hand from his firm grasp and fussing about with her gloves and the fur tippet around her shoulders. “I thought we were to travel straight to Pemberley,” she said as the carriage started to enter the village.
“I have a small commission to fulfil first; we shall not be long,” answered Mr Darcy.
As they turned the corner into the main street the sight that met her eyes was enough to make Elizabeth cry out in surprise; for lining both sides of the road, three people deep, was the entire population of Lambton. At the sight of the carriage up went a roar and a cheer, caps and hats were thrown into the air and everyone burst into applause. Faces, young and old, peered into the carriage as it trundled past. Voices sang out from every side with wishes of joy.
“God bless you, sir, and God bless you, my lady. Welcome to Lambton!”
So unexpected was the tribute being paid to them that Elizabeth was moved to the point where she could not immediately find her tongue. “Oh, Fitzwilliam,” she uttered at last. “Is this wonderful reception for us?”
“For you, my love. I might inspire a certain affectionate respect in my tenants, but I have never seen them turn out like this before.” He took her hand again. “Welcome to Lambton, Mrs Darcy. Come, we are expected.”
The carriage stopped in front of the smithy. Mr Darcy alighted first, before helping his bride down the steps to yet more cheers and greetings. Elizabeth was quite overawed, but managed to return the smiles of the happy faces around her. A crowd was gathering about them and around by the open doors of the forge as if in anticipation. Just in front was placed a gleaming anvil polished for the occasion with the ruddy-faced blacksmith in attendance, his large muscular arms folded across his chest. A well-dressed gentleman in clerical black stepped forward and was introduced to Elizabeth by Mr Darcy. A handsome young man, Mr Lloyd, the rector of Lambton church, cut a dashing figure—quite unlike any other clergyman Elizabeth thought she had ever met. He welcomed her to the village with a very pretty speech before explaining what was to happen next.
“We have a custom in these parts, Mrs Darcy, that when a new bride arrives at Pemberley House we celebrate this auspicious event by firing the anvil. If you will step this way, Mr and Mrs Darcy, I hope you shall enjoy what is to follow.”
The blacksmith took charge, filling the central hole in the anvil with a small amount of black gunpowder, to which he added the end of a long piece of cord. The audience, which had swelled in number, now including the newlyweds, took up position at a safe distance, and as the blacksmith produced a flaming rushlight, a hushed silence fell on them all.
“Mrs Darcy, you might wish to cover your ears,” pronounced Mr Lloyd, as the blacksmith set the end of the fuse alight. All but the bravest held their hands over their ears and waited, breathless, as the flame crept along the cord. As it reached the top of the anvil there was an audible intake of breath; then, the flame slowed and looked as if it might go out, before it finally gathered pace to surprise them all with the biggest bang Elizabeth had ever heard. Shrieks, laughter, and exclamations of relief resulted as a consequence and the rector announced Mr and Mrs Darcy officially married. Lizzy and her husband offered their thanks, then moved amongst the crowd shaking hands with all their well-wishers, who, without exception, greeted them with great affability.
“’Tis not only Pemberley weddings that are celebrated in this way, Mrs Darcy,” said an elderly lady with a soft Derbyshire burr, who curtsied deferentially before Elizabeth, “but birthdays and christenings too. The heirs of Pemberley receive not only a wetting in the font, but a firing from the forge, and every birthday is remembered. God bless you, my dear. I hope we will not have to wait long before we have reason to celebrate at the smithy once more.”
As she moved along Elizabeth blushed as she thought about the old lady’s sentiments. The thought of a child, an heir to Pemberley, was not one she had ever considered before. Yet, she knew that to provide children and an heir was one of the duties that would be expected of the new mistress of Pemberley. Still, she had been quite taken aback by such forthrightness. However, though Lizzy felt the impertinence of the woman’s words, she realised that they had been spoken in true kindness. Touched by the welcome from the people, Elizabeth thought how lucky she was to have met and fallen in love with the man who inspired such affection. She turned to seek him out, realising that she had momentarily lost him in the crowd that gathered around them. However, she soon had him in her sights. Mr Darcy’s unmistakable profile was highly visible, a clear head height over the multitude. His handsome face looked at its best, his eyes crinkling with good humour, and his dark hair waving back over his forehead to fall in curls against his collar. What a striking figure he cut, all ease, though still retaining an air of stateliness. Lizzy could see him listening carefully to his tenants’ words of advice and congratulations on the married state, receiving all their good wishes with grace and forbearance. His noble stature and his build, so evidently strong under the perfect cut of his black coat, were enough to overset her feelings. Not for the first time did she feel almost overwhelmed by the thought of all that would be expected of her by this powerful man, but she was determined to show him that in choosing her to be his bride, he had made the right decision. Despite the trepidation that she felt, she was confident that she would take it all in her stride.
Eventually, after thanking everyone again, with an extra show of gratitude to the rector and the blacksmith for their special ceremony, they took their leave, climbing back into the carriage for the last leg of the journey. Lizzy felt in high spirits; it had been so pleasurable to be addressed as Mrs Darcy, even if once or twice she had forgotten to respond, being quite unused to being called anything other than Miss Elizabeth Bennet.
As they bowled along, Elizabeth watched for the first appearance of Pemberley Woods with excitement, and when, at length, they turned in at the lodge she could hardly contain the mixture of fear and elation that she felt inside. It was one matter to be greeted so kindly by the villagers, but what would the inhabitants of Pemberley House think of her arrival? And how was she to undertake the job she had to do now, as mistress of the house?

Chapter 2


The park seemed larger than she remembered and the ascent through beautiful woodland just as memorable as it had been in August, even if the leaves now lay on the ground in drifts of russet and copper. Elizabeth’s mind was too full for conversation, and when they found themselves arriving at the top of a considerable eminence, where the wood ceased, she remembered with great anticipation the remarkable sight, which next came into view. Pemberley House, situated on the opposite side of the valley, was even bigger than she recalled. A large, handsome, stone building, standing well on rising ground, it was backed by a ridge of high wooded hills and fronted by a stream of natural beauty creating a perfect harmonious whole to Elizabeth’s way of thinking.
“Welcome to Pemberley, my dearest, Elizabeth; welcome to your new home,” said Mr Darcy with an extra squeeze of her hand.
The smile Mrs Darcy bestowed on her husband expressed her feelings as well as any words, her face lighting up with pure joy. They descended the hill, crossed the bridge and drove to the door, and whilst contemplating the nearer aspect of the house, which she remembered so well, all her apprehensions returned as Lizzy observed the army of awaiting staff.
Georgiana Darcy was also waiting, standing solemnly in front of the house with her governess Mrs Annesley. Elizabeth was pleased to see that her new sister was as unassuming and gentle in her manners as she remembered. Miss Darcy was tall, her figure womanly and graceful, and though not as handsome as her brother, when she smiled there was good humour in her countenance. And yet, Elizabeth felt she could discern some want of spirit. Georgiana’s eyes betrayed some traces of feeling, perhaps melancholy, her new sister decided. But once engaged in conversation, she seemed to brighten and Lizzy decided that the flicker of unhappiness she had witnessed had most likely been a symptom of apprehension. Georgiana was a shy girl at the best of times. Lizzy hoped above all things that they would continue to get along together as they had on their first meetings in the summer.
“I am so pleased to welcome you and my dear brother and to see you both together is the pleasure I have most been looking forward to in the whole world,” Georgiana said, curtseying before Elizabeth. She presented Mrs Annesley, who congratulated Mr and Mrs Darcy on their marriage before taking her leave to give her charge time to be with the Darcys by themselves.
“Mrs Darcy,” Georgiana said, as if making an announcement, “the name sounds so lovely. I kept thinking all the while that there was to be a new Mrs Darcy at Pemberley and how thrilled everyone hereabout will be at the news.”
“Everybody has been very kind,” Elizabeth answered, “but I am relying on your help, Miss Darcy. My wish is for us to spend as much time as possible together. I hope you will consider taking me around Pemberley and teaching me all about your home.”
“It will be my delight, Mrs Darcy.”
“Oh, please, let us not be so formal—do call me Elizabeth, or Lizzy. After all, we are sisters.”
“Then you must call me Georgiana also.”
Elizabeth proffered her arm and so the sisters linked arms to sally forth, Georgiana performing the introductions to the butler and the steward. Mr Darcy stared after them with the realisation that he had been entirely forgotten, but thought how glad he was to see the two women he loved best in the world getting to know each other so amicably and under such congenial circumstances.
Mrs Reynolds, the housekeeper, next came forward, her expression clearly showing that she remembered Elizabeth from her former visit. With the same deferential goodwill she had been shown in the village, the old lady bade her much fortune and happiness in her new home.
“Mrs Darcy, I hope you will find everything to your satisfaction. If there is anything I can do for you to increase your comfort, you have only to ask; I am here to serve you, ma’am.”
Elizabeth was on the point of replying, offering her thanks and assuring her housekeeper of her willingness to help in any household matters where Mrs Reynolds might require her assistance, when somewhere in the distance a loud boom echoed across the hills followed by several smaller blasts.
Lizzy looked with some alarm toward her husband. “Good heavens, what on earth was that? It sounded louder than the blacksmith’s firing.”
“I daresay Jack Rudge had a spot of gunpowder leftover and thought he’d frighten them all again,” said Mrs Reynolds, gesturing the way forward. “Please come along in, Mrs Darcy, it’s far too cold to be standing outside.”
Elizabeth looked up at her husband who had made no comment. He was looking toward the hills in the direction of Lambton with quite a scowl on his countenance.
“What does Rudge think he is doing?” demanded Mr Darcy, whose question was clearly rhetorical.
Mrs Darcy entered the hall with half a mind on Mrs Reynolds’s unceasing conversation and half on that of Mr Darcy. She was more than a little surprised to see how quickly her husband’s mood appeared to have altered and was, for an instant, reminded of the proud and disagreeable man she had first met in Hertfordshire.
However, Mr Darcy’s spirits were soon restored when he saw Elizabeth’s reaction to her new surroundings. They followed Mrs Reynolds into the dining-parlour, a large, well-proportioned room, handsomely fitted up. Elizabeth, remembering the view from her last visit, went to a window to enjoy its prospect. Crowned with wood, the hill from which they had descended was a beautiful object. Every disposition of the ground was good, and she looked on the whole scene, at the river, the trees scattered on its banks, and the winding of the valley with undisguised delight. Mrs Reynolds quickly excused herself, saying she would send their nuncheon along in a moment, for she was sure they must be famished from their journey. Georgiana followed her out of the room, keen to make herself useful and make sure that everything was in order for Elizabeth’s first meal at Pemberley.
Elizabeth stood looking at the scene with every appearance of rapture. “I think I must be dreaming,” she said, looking up at Mr Darcy, who joined her to stand at her side. “To think that I shall be able to enjoy this vista whenever I choose. Oh, Fitzwilliam, I have rarely seen such beauties of landscape. I know I shall be so happy here; indeed, how could anyone ever be unhappy faced with this outlook every day? You won’t ever take me away, will you?”
Mr Darcy smiled at her with the particular smile that he seemed only to reserve for her, especially in their private moments. “I will keep you here forever, Mrs Darcy, I promise, though I expect after a month or two, when the winter becomes severe and you tell me that you cannot keep warm, and that the gossips hereabout have dried up all their tales, you’ll be begging me for more varied society.”
“I do not think I could ever tire of Pemberley, Fitzwilliam, and I’m certain the society here will be exactly what I wish. To be holed up here in winter by a cosy fire with you is exactly the sort of society I crave.”
“Do you not wish to go to London for the season?” asked Mr Darcy, clearly astonished. “I thought all young women love to go to London, if not for society, at least for the shopping! And it may be selfish, but I wish to show off my wife at all the assemblies in town.”
“I should like to go one day, but now we are here, I would much prefer to stay put, at least for a while. Indeed, I cannot think of anywhere I should be tempted to go. I know I have a lot to learn about the running of a grand house and I want to do it well. I wish you to be proud of your wife, Mr Darcy.”
“I rather thought my being proud was one of the traits you despised in me,” he answered, looking her straight in the eye but with a twinkle in his own.
“Indeed, Mr Darcy, to be proud of your wife, I believe, shows you have no improper pride. To have pride in a spouse displays a certain satisfaction and contentment, respect even, for your life partner. I do not think you guilty of vanity or conceit for having pride in me.”
Mr Darcy laughed. “I thought you might see it that way, my dearest, Elizabeth.” His voice softened as he added, “I am very proud of you, Mrs Darcy.”
Mrs Reynolds returned at that moment, followed by Georgiana, with two housemaids bringing plates of cold meat, warm bread rolls, slabs of fruitcake, and a dish of rosy apples.
“I think we had best make the most of our solitude today,” said Mr Darcy, inviting his wife and sister to join him at the table with a gesture of his hand. “No doubt, we shall be inundated with visitors over the next few days or so. My neighbours will be anxious to call on the new bride. Will you mind, very much, being scrutinised by the entire district, do you think?”
“I suppose I had better get used to the idea of being an object of interest. You are an important man and the families in the vicinity are bound to be curious about the woman who has shackled herself to a man who requires so much in the way of accomplishments. I hope I do not disappoint them.”
Elizabeth grinned at Georgiana, who looked so shocked that anyone could speak to her brother in such a fashion and not be scolded for it that Lizzy started to laugh.
“Your teasing is too severe, Elizabeth,” replied Mr Darcy. “I suppose you are referring to that conversation, so long ago, in which I claimed I knew only a half dozen of accomplished ladies.”
Elizabeth’s expression was serious, as she gave full attention to her apple. With movements deft and precise, Mr Darcy watched the ribbon of peel grow longer as Lizzy pared the fruit with her knife. She looked up for a moment, her large dark eyes sparkling at him from under fine, arched brows. “I am sure I shall be a great curiosity,” she said at last. “People will be bound to quiz me as to the extent of my knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, the modern languages, and whatever else an accomplished woman should possess.” She paused to look up with a bemused expression in Georgiana’s direction and rested a single finger on her rosy cheek. “Now, what else must she have? Ah, yes, I remember, she must be endowed with a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions, to but half deserve the word.”
“Oh dear, do not remind me. I know I professed all of this and more,” declared Darcy with a groan. “I really was unbearably disparaging. Tell me, Mrs Darcy, how could you have tied yourself to such an abominably, impossible man?”
“Truly, I cannot say, except to add that I fell in love with him, despite all his faults, which are lately much improved. And I think the people who know you best will understand why I married you. Indeed, I have no regrets and I have no intention of disappointing your neighbours. They will see distinction and accomplishment, I promise.”
“And what is more, they will see the most beautiful woman in all of Derbyshire. Do you not agree, Georgiana?” said Mr Darcy.
Georgiana spoke up at once. “Yes, I do. I think Elizabeth the most beautiful lady of my acquaintance.”
A knock at the door interrupted the conversation and a maidservant appeared with a salver. “Please sir, this letter’s just come by express.”
Fitzwilliam Darcy picked up the letter and Elizabeth witnessed a frown instantly change his congenial expression as he examined the handwriting. He nodded at the servant, muttered his thanks and waited until the latter departed before tearing open the seal. Elizabeth watched as he instantly fell silent, his mouth setting in a hard line. She began to feel quite fearful. Darcy’s colour was rising in his cheeks, his dark eyes flashing beneath his black brows. His agitation increased with every word read, until finally, in a spontaneous act of temper, he tore the offending missive into shreds, managing simultaneously to send a glass flying across the room to shatter onto the stone hearth in a thousand brittle shards.
“And this is her letter of congratulation and felicitation on the event of my marriage, is it? Does she imagine that I crave her approbation; that I even care for her opinion? This is insufferable, an unspeakable affront of the vilest kind!”
“Fitzwilliam, what on earth is the matter?” Elizabeth put out her hand to cover her husband’s as a gesture of concern.
Darcy instantly withdrew his hand before Elizabeth had a chance to touch him, and immediately rising, he marched over to the fire to scatter the offending scraps of paper into the flames. He stood for a moment before the fender, his head bowed and shoulders hunched in an attitude of defeat. But in the next second Elizabeth saw his change in posture; he seemed taller than ever as he turned in an attitude of defiance. Now in total command of his emotions, his voice cut through the air like a steel knife after sharpening on a wet stone. “Never will she return to Pemberley whilst I am living,” he declared darkly. “I have been insulted by every method and I will have no more of it.”
Elizabeth ran to his side. She was very concerned, not only by his alarming behaviour, but also because Georgiana was becoming increasingly distressed. “Please, my love,” she whispered, “Georgiana is very upset. May I ask what has disturbed you so?”
“Forgive me, Elizabeth, Georgiana, but I was overcome by my feelings for a moment. I did not mean to worry you. I have received a communication of the direst sort, so despicable that I would rather not have you know its contents. My aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, a lady you know who does not hold back when divulging her true opinions has chosen to insult me in such a way as can never be excused. She has made her thoughts quite clear and I feel I have no choice but to act on them. I am only sorry that the last link with my dear mother’s family must finally be severed.”
“Dearest, come now, think what you are saying,” said Elizabeth, who was stricken by her husband’s appearance. “I daresay she was not in her right mind when she wrote the letter. We both know that Lady Catherine was far from happy about the news of our engagement, and we would be fooling ourselves if we thought that the event of our marriage was going to make her sanguine. She is angry, but her displeasure need not affect our happiness. Dearest, please do not be upset.”
Although calmer, Mr Darcy’s anger did not subside, his complexion paled and the disturbance of his mind became visible in every feature. “That woman has slighted you in an abuse of words that I would not use against my worst enemy and she has irrevocably offended me for the last time, Mrs Darcy. No one speaks of my wife and my family in such despicable terms and gets away with it. That is my last word on the matter.”
Darcy walked back to the table to his sister’s side and putting out his hand took up Georgiana’s small one to pat it reassuringly. “I am sorry if I frightened you, Georgiana, but I was rather cross. I am quite composed now, do not worry.”
Miss Darcy looked up and smiled, her affection for her brother clearly etched on every feature. “I am not worried, you know; however rude Lady Catherine might be, her bark is always worse than her bite. I am so sorry, Fitzwilliam, that such a lovely day has been spoiled.”
“Oh, do not worry about that, my dear little sister. Nothing could spoil this day for me, which has to be the happiest I have ever known.”
Looking over at his wife, Elizabeth caught his eye and the look of love that passed between them made Georgiana smile again. She placed her napkin on the table and rose to leave. “I must go and see Mrs Annesley now, if you will excuse me. There is a drawing I have to finish.” She paused at the door and turned toward the happy couple. “I am so delighted that you are both here, especially you, Lizzy.”
After she had gone, Elizabeth was concerned that Georgiana might still feel upset about the letter. She felt perhaps her own behaviour had not helped matters and was fearful that she might have embarrassed Georgiana by her forthrightness. “I do not think your sister is used to people teasing you or being rude to you. I do hope she was not affronted.”
“Not at all. I should think if anyone’s behaviour induced embarrassment it must have been my own. Not just that I was outspoken and impulsive with regard to my aunt’s letter. I confess I am forgetting my manners of late when I am with you. Being in the company of lovers is somewhat tedious for anyone else, especially when they must listen to the protestations of love from a newly wedded husband.”
“Oh, Mr Darcy, I can find no fault in your manners,” said Elizabeth, returning to the table to stand before her beloved husband. “Indeed, they have improved so much that I declare I am quite delighted by your protestations.”
“How delighted are you, Mrs Darcy?” he cried, pulling her towards him. “I need proof of such a declaration.”
“Oh, my love, I cannot imagine how to accomplish such an avowal to your satisfaction.”
“Can you not, Mrs Darcy?” he whispered, enfolding his wife in his arms and planting a tender kiss on her cheek. “Then please let me be the one to enlighten you.”
The afternoon disappeared in blissful companionship. Relaxing on a sofa in their private sitting room before a log fire dozing in each other’s arms was as close as Elizabeth imagined earthly paradise could be. The day was drawing to a close, shadows creeping stealthily inside and out. Through the floor-length windows, Elizabeth could see the wintry sun low on the horizon, like a scarlet ball sending ribbons of flame and crimson across the sky, making silhouettes of the trees and gilding the water below to a burnished copper. The soft candlelight within mirrored the scene to perfection, so where the interior finished and the garden began seemed indistinct. Happiness filled her soul at everything she observed, but most especially at the sight of her handsome husband slumbering at her side. She kissed him on the cheek but had no wish to wake him; he looked so very peaceful. Lizzy stretched and, getting up, looked about wondering if she could remember which of the doors was the one to her dressing room. She could not resist another peep into her bedchamber, even if she thought she had better start getting ready for dinner. The heavy door opened onto a scene of delight to Elizabeth’s eyes. Decorated in hues of her favourite yellow, her bedchamber looked a sunny room even in dim candlelight. Little had she realised in all their conversations at Longbourn that all the while Mr Darcy had been making mental notes of her preferences in all matters of style. Fitzwilliam had executed every single wish that she could possibly have had. Fresh lavender-scented linen on the bed and plumped pillows embroidered with the Darcy crest looked so inviting that she wished she could dispense with dinner entirely. At the foot of the huge, oak tester bed, complete with floral drapes to keep in the warmth, a bowl of pot pourri filled with dried roses on a chest assailed her senses with the fragrance of a summer’s day. Elizabeth sat down at her dressing table and, glancing at her image in the glass, she was astonished by her reflection, at the sophisticated young woman who looked back at her. How much she seemed to have changed, she thought, in the short time she had become Mrs Darcy, although she readily acknowledged that the appearance of a well-dressed young woman did not altogether reflect the true state of her inner feelings. No matter how much she had convinced herself that being Mrs Darcy would be a matter she could easily take in her stride, wanting to prove her worth as a fitting consort for her husband delighted and unsettled her in equal measures.
Her thoughts turned to the events of the day. Recalling the old woman who had talked of Pemberley heirs, Lizzy could hardly contemplate the subject that filled her with not only a sense of fear, but also of excitement. How soon would there be another firing at the anvil, she wondered. That was a prospect to delight in, even if the very thought was disturbing. A picture of the man she adored smiling at her with that expression she loved most came uppermost to her mind, but whilst she contemplated, she also recollected that today had brought its troubles as well as its joys. Fitzwilliam had seemed very upset when the anvil had been accidentally fired as they arrived at Pemberley; his reaction had startled her, she had to admit. That incident coupled with the letter he had received from Lady Catherine had really ruffled Darcy’s feathers. But, it had been an eventful and emotional day for them both. Elizabeth thought how much she had to learn about her husband and about being a new wife. One of her first duties must surely involve helping Fitzwilliam be united with his aunt. Proud and disagreeable as Lady Catherine had proved, Elizabeth did not want to be the reason for ending their intimacy. How she was to accomplish such a feat would bring all her powers of cunning, tact, and persuasion to bear. No matter, it would be done somehow and she hoped sooner rather than later. But for now she must look forward to a pleasant evening and the prospect of their first night at Pemberley House. Elizabeth fixed a silk flower in her hair, blew out the candles, and went in search of her darling husband.


Chapter 3

Mr Darcy was proved right. A constant flow of visitors eager to see the new bride arrived every morning during the following week. Elizabeth met all the notable families in the area—the Calladines, the Eatons, the Vernons, and the Bradshaws—whose invitations to dine soon mounted on the mantelpiece. Lizzy was happy to meet her neighbours if slightly overwhelmed and exhausted by the experience. As pleasant as the local gentry appeared to be, she soon gained the impression that here, as in any other locality, gossip was rife amongst its inhabitants, and she had to admit she felt most disconcerted by much of what she heard. All she could do was to put such tittle-tattle out of her mind, although one particular tale left her feeling most perplexed. That it involved the Darcy family, albeit indirectly, Elizabeth knew must be at the heart of her uneasiness.
The evening before last had promised to be a trial before it even began. Their hostess, Lady Rackham, was an old acquaintance of Darcy’s aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, and Elizabeth had no doubt that she would be under particular scrutiny. Before dinner there had been the usual polite but pointed conversation aimed at discovering as much about Lizzy’s past and social connections as possible. That this examination had amused her there could be no question, but when the conversation turned to the connection with Darcy’s aunt, Elizabeth knew she must be on her guard for her husband’s sake. She had the feeling that Lady Rackham had been influenced in her disapproval of Mr Darcy’s marriage and that Lady Catherine’s opinions of Elizabeth had swiftly become Lady Rackham’s own before she had even made the acquaintance.
“Mrs Darcy, I expect you will be staying with Lady Catherine in town for the coming season,” said Lady Rackham. “I know Mr Darcy always looks forward to being in London with his aunt, and that she too depends very much upon his company.”
Before Elizabeth had a chance to answer, however, Mr Darcy spoke out. He had overheard the conversation and gave his reply, which was abrupt and to the point.
“We have no plans at the present time to go to London, Lady Rackham.”
“Oh dear, Mr Darcy, I know your aunt quite depends on your attendance for her comfort.”
“I am sure my aunt will find she has enough diversion in London. Besides, it is my wish to stay in Derbyshire.”
“I do hope your aunt will not suffer too much under her disappointment at your absence in town. But, I daresay you and Mrs Darcy have your reasons for staying away. And in any case, I expect Lady Catherine will be making her usual visit to Pemberley after Christmas,” she said. “She has many friends who welcome her visits; I look forward with great anticipation to her coming to Derbyshire. We have so much to discuss.”
Mr Darcy turned away at that moment to address Lord Rackham as if he had not heard her speak. Elizabeth felt mortified by his rude manners and, deciding that she must answer in the affirmative, declared that they were looking forward to a visit whenever Lady Catherine wished to call.
“I know how much she and her daughter look forward to coming to Derbyshire,” continued Lady Rackham. “It is a pity that Miss de Bourgh suffers so much with poor health, but I am sure the Derbyshire air does her good. Of course, in the old days when Mrs Darcy was alive we had such splendid gatherings at Pemberley. She and Lady Catherine were the celebrated sisters of their day, such noble blood, with all the elevation of rank—the epitome of fine, aristocratic connections. But with Lady Anne Darcy’s untimely death it all came to an end.”
“It must have had a devastating effect upon the family,” ventured Elizabeth.
“The consequences of that poor lady’s death cannot be underestimated—the cost to Pemberley, I do not think we have ever fully appreciated until now. That her influence in all matters is no longer felt is a true detriment. As Lady Catherine said, its history is taking a turn I am certain she would not have endorsed.”
Lady Rackham scrutinised Elizabeth with such an expression of hauteur that she felt as if she had personally been accused of causing the lady’s demise. Her none too subtle hints seemed to be suggesting that if Mr Darcy’s mother had still been alive Elizabeth would certainly not have taken her place. Too shocked to immediately respond, it was with some relief Elizabeth heard that they were all being asked to take their seats for dinner. Holding on to her husband’s arm and feeling his reassuring presence as they entered the room, Elizabeth reminded herself that she knew there were always going to be those people connected with Lady Catherine whom she was never going to please. By agreeing to marry Mr Darcy, she had known that there were going to be many trials ahead. Rising above them was a matter she had to overcome.
The dinner passed in the usual way with much consumption by the gentlemen and little from their partners, who were all engaged in the pursuit of talking too much to be eating. At the correct time the ladies withdrew from the table leaving the gentlemen to their drinks and speculation on the sport that was to follow the next day. How Elizabeth wished she could stay with them even though shooting was not a subject that held much interest. The thought of more searching questions and sneering remarks filled her with dread. She knew it was a matter of time before she would be singled out for the usual probing inspection and it was not long before Mrs Eaton sought Elizabeth’s company. They had only met once before but that lady had established herself as a gossip and inquisitive to the point of offensiveness. Elizabeth was on her mettle.
After making enquiries about how Mrs Darcy had been enjoying the hospitality of the people in the surrounding district, the subject of Pemberley, Georgiana, and of Mr Darcy’s mother arose again.
“Miss Georgiana is growing into a fine young lady,” said Mrs Eaton. “I expect she’ll have her coming out soon and we shall see her being courted. I cannot believe she is of an age for dancing with all that that entails.” Shaking her head, she sighed. “To think all that time has passed, and that poor girl never knowing her mother. I cannot bear to think of her never experiencing the warmth of maternal love.”
“It is true, a mother’s care is of a special kind,” Elizabeth commented thoughtfully, “but surely it does not follow that there is necessarily any neglect if a child receives love from a devoted parent or sibling—a father or a brother may also bestow much affection, and in my opinion, show quite as much attachment.”
“Mrs Darcy, I did not mean to imply that there was ever any absence of care for Miss Georgiana. Indeed, I would say that generally speaking there was more than enough attention lavished on Miss Darcy. No, I believe love has never been wanting in her case. And to speak plainly, she certainly didn’t suffer for want of love from one particular quarter.”
Elizabeth met Mrs Eaton’s eyes and bore all the study of her careful observation. With great alarm, she suddenly felt on her guard, surely this lady had no knowledge of Georgiana’s unfortunate past affair with the scandalous Mr Wickham. If she had prior knowledge of the sad business Lizzy was unsure, but she felt relieved that Mrs Eaton did not allude to the comment again as she continued without a pause for breath.
“I daresay you’ve heard tell of old Mrs Darcy’s lady’s maid. She was like a second mother to Miss Georgiana until she went away.”
The turn in the conversation took her aback, but Elizabeth assured her that she knew of no such lady. “Indeed, I know very little about Mr Darcy’s mother, I must confess.”
“The poor lady was very fond of Rachel Tissington, I can tell you. When Mrs Darcy died giving birth to Miss Georgiana, her maid lavished as much love on the babe as if she were her own. I daresay, if things had not turned out quite as they did, she’d have seen her grow up into the young woman she is today.”
Elizabeth instinctively knew that Mrs Eaton was referring to some unpleasantness and desperately sought to change the subject. But her companion was undeterred.
“Between you and me, that’s what started it—tending for the babe and longing for a child—as it often does with the lower orders. I am not one to gossip, I can assure you, Mrs Darcy, but when a penniless servant girl is set up for life in a cottage of her own and finds a husband and a baby within a few short months, it is bound to be commented on. Well, it is a blessing Mrs Darcy knew nothing of it, that’s all I can say. I am sure it would have broken her heart.”
Elizabeth could scarcely hide her astonishment. Unperturbed, Mrs Eaton continued, “Master Tissington was celebrating his birthday on the day you arrived, I believe.” Mrs Eaton smiled at Elizabeth. “Well, it was all some years ago now. He’s growing into a tall, handsome young man, not a bit of the farm boy about him, they say.”
Lizzy had long since formed a very poor opinion of Mrs Eaton on the last occasion of their meeting, but this outburst confirmed her very worst suspicions. How she could have attracted the affable Mr Eaton, Lizzy could not think. On reflection, she decided that it was highly likely that Mrs Eaton’s fortune might have prompted cupid for she was certain it could not have been her charms.
“Well, it’s happened before and it will happen again, I daresay, and I don’t suppose the boy will ever learn anything of his true connections. ’Tis a terrible place for gossip, but some very spiteful people say that Master Tissington’s father is of noble connections. You might think so, for his mother certainly puts on airs in her little cottage at Birchlow.”
Elizabeth felt her heart beating so fast she was sure it might burst. Every feeling of indignation and protest at this woman’s horrid, unfeeling intimations filled her with a sense of disgust. It was fortunate that Lady Rackham chose that moment to call upon one of the ladies to play upon the pianoforte or the temptation to tell her what she thought of her uncivil and distasteful discourse might have been effected.
Not long after that the gentlemen joined them, Mr Darcy seeking her out and immediately putting her at ease merely by being there. But despite the reassurance of her husband’s company Elizabeth felt out of sorts. On the journey home in the carriage she could not help recalling Mrs Eaton’s words. There had been something so underhand in her manner of communication, an attempt to unsettle her, Elizabeth felt. It was hardly a subject for discussion, and yet the hints Mrs Eaton had made left her feeling that there was more to this tale than one of the servant girl and the child it involved. If only Jane were here to discuss and have it over. A picture of her sister came to mind and the thought that Jane would have dismissed Mrs Eaton’s nastiness as not worth worrying about eased her mind for the present. Neither did she consider that she would mention the episode to Fitzwilliam. Thinking that it was not a matter to be brought to her husband’s attention and determined to put the incident out of her mind, she refused to contemplate the matter any further.
***
Elizabeth longed for a moment of peace and solitude with a chance to explore her new home. There had not been much opportunity to walk about the grounds as much as she would like, but she supposed it was inevitable that there would be constraints on her leisure time, at least until things settled down. When a letter from Netherfield arrived from Jane, she immediately felt the delight of such a communication with her sister as it became clear that she too was suffering under the same engagements, even if she seemed able to bear it all with far more presence of mind.
On the following Tuesday afternoon, finding the time to take a stroll together at last, Fitzwilliam suggested they walk high into the woods, taking the path past the water cascade. The day was fine, the November sun melting the crystals of ice frosting the grass and the remaining leaves on the trees. The sound of the rushing water falling down the hillside, bubbling along, was a joyful noise to Elizabeth’s ears, and as they walked she admired all the views around.
The subject of their conversation soon turned from nature to nurture and subsequently to that of Miss Darcy.
“It is so good to have Georgiana with us,” said Elizabeth, taking his arm as they progressed up the steeper part of the hill. “If only we can make Pemberley into a cheerful home for her once more, I will be happy. I am conscious that she has spent a considerable time in London and must have missed her childhood home greatly. I am most anxious that she may come to feel the happiness she formerly knew in this house when your parents were alive.”
“It is a relief to have her with me again, with us, Elizabeth. I am so fortunate to have you help me with Georgiana, as I know you will.”
“I only hope there are not too many memories to haunt her, ones that might give rise to the unhappiness and melancholy that she suffered in the past.”
“Never will I forgive that blackguard George Wickham for his treatment of my sister. To think how I might have prevented it if I had spent more time with her.”
He stopped and Elizabeth observed how altered his mood became when the displeasing subject of their brother-in-law was touched upon. His black eyes seemed darker than ever and his smile, which usually softened his features into gentleness, was replaced by a scowl. It was evident that he struggled with his composure.
Elizabeth could not bear to see him so upset. “Fortunately for your sister, there was no great harm done, which cannot be said for my own.”
“There is always great harm done where that gentleman is concerned,” he answered. “At least in Newcastle he has a chance to redeem himself. We can only hope that their marriage will succeed, even if I feel my hopes for such worthwhile attainment are quite in vain.”
“I cannot help but feel for my heedless sister. Lydia will have to live with him for the rest of her life. However silly and imprudent her behaviour, in my heart I do not think she deserved such a fate, even if I know there was nothing more that could be done.”
They gained the top of the hill and, looking down, saw the valley and the rising prominence on the other side of the vale. “I do not mean to sound so ungrateful, Fitzwilliam. Without your intervention, who knows what would have become of Lydia. No doubt, when Wickham had become tired of her… Oh, I cannot even contemplate such a thing!”
“Let us not worry our heads over people who do not deserve such attention,” Mr Darcy continued. “Let us look forward to our future, to being all together again. I have longed for this time to come to pass, a chance to be settled at Pemberley once more and amongst my fellow Derbyshire neighbours. This county, this land of high peaks and lush valleys, all you survey before you is in my blood; it forms part of what it is to be a Darcy. Oh, Elizabeth, I hope some day you will feel as I do about our home. Georgiana, I know, was unhappy in town and longed to come back. I see the change in her already. Soon, she will have to make her own establishment, but I see no reason for her to go very far from us. A neighbouring estate will do very nicely. We shall have to look about for a husband for her in the not too distant future.”
“Surely there is no need to do that just yet,” Elizabeth implored. “Besides, I cannot think of anyone suitable in the vicinity.”
“Hugh Calladine would make a good match.”
“But he is at least ten years older than Georgiana, and besides, I thought it was common knowledge that he is in love with Eleanor Bradshaw. Mrs Bradshaw entertains high hopes of there being an alliance between the families.”
“Hugh Calladine is a good gentleman of suitable standing, with a fine property, a sizeable inheritance, and what is more, a title to come. He has ambition, despite his friendship with the Bradshaws. They are a respectable family, but there is no fortune. Hugh Calladine will not make an imprudent match; he is very sensible. He is a young man and like all young men he has had his share of falling in love and breaking one or two hearts. That is the way of life; there is no harm done. Besides, I like the fellow. It is true, he is older than Georgiana, but I think he would be a settling influence on her.”
“Do you mean to tell me that you would encourage him? And what does Georgiana think of him? I’m sure she would have no interest in a man who loved another. Darcy, you cannot be serious. Please tell me that you are joking, that you are teasing me for some cruel amusement. You do not really mean to marry Georgiana off for money and position alone, do you?”
Darcy let go of her arm, and turning away from her continued to speak. “Georgiana is a wealthy young lady and, as such, will be the prey of fortune hunters. It is imperative that a suitable marriage be made for her. There is no reason to delay.”
“But surely you will let her find her own love,” said Elizabeth, lightly running to catch him up slipping her arm inside his again. “Georgiana has not yet attended her first ball or had the pleasure of meeting any suitable young men who are nearer to her in age. She is just at the beginning and learning how to overcome her shyness. Even talking to young gentlemen will be a sore trial at first, let alone to someone of more mature years who might require a certain sophistication. Besides, you surely cannot deny her what you have allowed for yourself, can you?”
“I can think of no other gentleman more suitable; my parents would have been delighted if they had thought my sister would make such a match. It is all they dreamed of for their only daughter. You do not understand these matters, Elizabeth. Romance and sentimentality have no place here. Georgiana is a dutiful girl; she knows what is expected of her.”
At this point Elizabeth lost her temper. “So, you are determined on this course for Georgiana. Oh, Fitzwilliam, I do not understand you. The poor girl has hardly set foot in Derbyshire and you have her married off to a man we know little about except for the fact that he is rich and enjoying the charms of another, less fitting candidate. Well, I cannot be a party to such folly and I will not discuss this matter further until you have come to your senses.”
Elizabeth turned on her heel and, before her husband could stop her, she left. He stood, half amazed and half angry at the sight of his new bride running down the hill as fast as she could to get away from him.
Almost as soon as she got to the bottom of the hill Elizabeth began to doubt the wisdom of speaking out in such a manner, but she was convinced she had been right to do so.
“Impossible man!” she said to herself. “He claims to love his sister and have her best interests at heart and yet he would enslave her in marriage before she is ready and to a man she does not love. To think that I thought he had changed for the better, that his disagreeable prejudices and notions of superiority were changed. Oh, Georgiana, how you will wish you had stayed in London.”
Elizabeth hastened to her room. She felt so cross she could not trust herself to do anything else, but once there, she paced up and down, all the while trying to reason with herself. However hard she tried, she could not forgive Darcy for his belief that Georgiana must do her duty in marriage to a partner he would select. An hour passed during which every torment of feeling, every contrast of emotion from indignation to remorse unsettled her. But she was most sorry that she had stormed off, surely leaving him feeling quite the superior by his attitude. “I must learn to curb my tongue,” she thought, “for I am sure that shouting at my husband will only antagonise him. It is my temper I must control. I was too quick to show my exasperation and this will not endear me to him or change his views, I fear. In any case, I don’t doubt he wishes to see Georgiana safely married. I know so little about her, truly, but from what I have gleaned from others, she has something of the Darcy spirit. I daresay I am being unfair, but a girl who was so easily persuaded to run away with George Wickham must have her own faults.”
More importantly and uppermost in her mind was the problem she now faced of how to apologise to her husband for her rash behaviour. Though not wishing him to think that he had been right, she knew her impulsive actions had done nothing to further her argument. With this in mind, she hurried downstairs to search for him.
On poking her head around the saloon door she discovered Mr Darcy within standing by the blazing fire, which considerably cheered the aspect of this north facing room in winter. He turned as he heard her enter and they both began talking at once declaring together their heartfelt sorrow at their misunderstanding. Within moments all was forgiven and forgotten; the lovers united by a tender embrace.
“I wish we did not have to go out to dine this evening,” said Elizabeth.
“Oh, Mrs Darcy, I think you can read my mind,” her husband answered with a smile. “How I wish we could stay here alone, away from the inquisitive eyes of our neighbours.”
“I must admit I have had quite enough of being stared at to last me a lifetime,” Elizabeth replied. “Well, I daresay I can endure it for another evening if I must.”
“Perhaps I was not entirely honest when I described how our life at Pemberley might be, omitting to tell you how often you would be called upon to perform duties which are bound not only to be tedious but also irritating. Dining at the Eatons’ tonight is, I fear, the last straw.”
“I do not consider such evenings to be so very tiresome and I have enjoyed meeting the majority of your neighbours. I must confess, however, that I do have a particular dislike for Mrs Eaton who has on the two occasions of our meeting displayed an unsurpassed aptitude for conversation of a particular variety. She can relate an amusement in detail, tell a ludicrous story, and laugh at her friends with much vigour. At least it is not a requirement to join in. She is happy enough to supply her own replies.”
Mr Darcy laughed. “I am fortunate that her long suffering husband is a good deal more pleasant.”
“Well, at least I shall be able to talk to him during dinner. It is the after dinner, the ladies withdrawing from the dining table that I dread.”
“They will no doubt quiz you and question you as to the kind of man you have married, Mrs Darcy. I hope you will not disappoint them or they will have nothing to gossip about.”
“Gossip: the fuel of village life. It doesn’t seem to matter wherever one lives, there is certainly no escape from hearsay and scandal. For my own part, I thwart it wherever I can though it is impossible to avoid when talking with Mrs Eaton.” Elizabeth paused to consider whether she ought to discuss the story related by this lady, yet she was curious to discover if Fitzwilliam had any notion of the gossip surrounding his mother’s former employee. “I have been quite unable to put some of her tittle-tattle out of my head. She told me about a lady’s maid who was formerly in the employ of the Darcy family. There is a rather unpleasant tale going about that her child’s father is a gentleman of some distinction. It was in many respects a disconcerting story. Do you know anything of the matter or circumstances?”
Fitzwilliam Darcy turned once more to the fire. He picked up the poker and stabbed at the glowing logs before picking up a sizeable chunk of wood to add to the flames roaring up the chimney.
“I know nothing of these tales,” he answered, in a voice that immediately discouraged further discussion on the subject. “You should not concern yourself or listen to these gossips. My mother’s maid was of exemplary character—that is all you need to know.”

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