Colonel Fitzwilliam called at the Darcys’ well before dinner. The gentlemen disappeared into the study; Elizabeth had learned enough about her husband to know that he would bring his cousin to her when he was ready.
The men said little as they went through the ritual of selecting cigars and pouring drinks.
“I did not know you were working for General Abernathy.”
“For the last six months or so. You and I have not been in each other’s company since my current assignment began.”
“It is hard to believe it has been that long since we spoke.”
“We both had our duties.” The Colonel took another drink. “Mrs Darcy seems to be a very amiable woman. My father will be relieved.”
A muscle twitched in Darcy’s jaw. “I can imagine what the Earl has said about Elizabeth.”
“You have no idea what your announcement has wrought. I was thankful that I was obliged to be away during most of your engagement.”
“Your father and our aunt made their feelings quite clear on the matter, I assure you.”
“To the rest of the family, as well. After you left Kent, they spent the next several days attempting to come up with schemes to prevent to your marriage to Miss Bennet.” The Colonel laughed softly. “After they saw the formal announcement, they knew it was a hopeless cause.”
“How do you know this?” Darcy thought he knew the answer, but decided to test his cousin.
“Lady Catherine returned to Town with my parents; Anne came, too. Martin and Harriet and Northem were summoned to Alton House, as was I. We were informed of your meeting at Rosings.”
“A family conference?”
“Yes. Even Aunt Victoria was asked to come, but she refused. The Earl made it abundantly clear that he would be extremely disappointed if any of us witnessed your wedding. I am sorry, old man. I hope you know that I wanted to be there, but I cannot easily afford to alienate my father. I am unfortunately dependent on his good will to continue living comfortably as a gentleman.”
“Elizabeth suggested the same the other evening. Will your dining with us tonight cause you to fall into disfavour? If so, I would not have had you risk it.”
“No, you may rest easy. I will see that he credits my presence here this evening as seizing the opportunity to convey the family’s, shall we say, ‘official’ stance about your situation.” The Colonel paused and took a sip of his brandy.
“I have yet to tell you the rest of the discussion. Lady Catherine was very insistent that your wife not be recognized, but my father was able to prevail. He saw more potential for harm than for good by such a course. Mind you, he was furious. He is angry with you still, but realistic enough to understand that ostracizing you and your wife would produce more problems than it solved.”
“Yes, more problems for them. What, then, should I expect from the family?”
“Indifferent acceptance. You and Mrs Darcy will be acknowledged in public, but no effort will be made to encourage intimacy.”
“In other words, I am to be treated as a wayward child, patronized for my indiscretions.”
“If you would put it in those terms, yes.”
Darcy sighed. It was not a bad as it could have been. “So they will acknowledge Elizabeth?”
“To a point, and in public. Do not expect invitations to intimate family gatherings or visiting to and fro.” The Colonel laughed ruefully. “In that, you might count yourself fortunate. However, I think it politic to wait to tell my father that he is a fool to dismiss your wife without even taking the time to meet her. She is a lovely woman, Darcy, and it is obvious that she is very fond of you.”
“Heavens, yes! The way she looks at you, the smiles she gives you – men will be jealous of you, Cousin.” Darcy’s brow furrowed; he was not at all pleased. The Colonel was surprised. “Do you not want your wife’s good opinion?”
“I never said that.”
“You did not look pleased when I spoke about it.”
“I am not happy that she is so unguarded of her feelings.”
“Darcy, you have been married for less than two weeks. I see nothing about which to censure you wife. She is supposed to be enamoured of you.”
“Still, it will not do if she continues in such a blatant way when we are in Town for the season.”
“Darcy, let me give you a little advice about women. Do not make the mistake of attributing to them your own ideas of how the world ought to behave. They are different creatures from you and me, and I for one am nearly always at a loss to know what they are thinking. I am confident that you have told your wife what is expected of her. In the few hours I have been in her presence, I developed no doubts that she will do as you ask, but in her own, feminine way.”
Darcy was thoughtful. “You are correct, of course. But your father and our aunt will be most vigilant and unforgiving in their observation of Elizabeth. I do not want her behaviour to provide any confirmation of their opinion that I chose beneath me. I would not give them that satisfaction.”
“You wish to show that they were wrong. Darcy, for your sake and your wife’s, I hope and pray that you shall. And speaking of the lady in question, shall we join her now?”
“…And so the general addressed the poor colonel sitting across from me, ‘I see no reason why your regiment should not be ready to fight the French at a moment’s notice. Surely if worse came to worse, your officers could challenge theirs to a ball, since improving their dancing skill appears all for which they have time. Heaven forbid that they should actually drill!’”
Elizabeth’s laugher filled the room at Colonel Fitzwilliam’s tale. “What did the poor man say to that?”
“There was nothing he could say. I was very glad I was not in his shoes.”
Colonel Fitzwilliam had spent much of the dinner hour regaling Elizabeth and Darcy with tales from his army life. Gradually, any misgivings the Darcys had experienced in anticipation of the evening faded away. The good colonel was not handsome of face, but he was, in person and address, proof that a true gentleman was a manifestation of good breeding and even better character. He and Elizabeth engaged in spirited conversation while Darcy remained a mostly silent observer.
“How long shall you remain in Brighton, Colonel?” Elizabeth asked.
“The general’s intent was for me to remain about a week. He is expecting a report on the regiment’s preparations and readiness when I return.”
“How very fortunate for us to be here at the same time as you.”
“I was never so surprised as when I spied my cousin at the Assembly, Mrs Darcy. Had I known that you were here, I would have called as soon as my duties permitted.”
The evening progressed equally amiably, and the Darcys and the Colonel parted on the best of terms possible.
After the Colonel left, Darcy related to Elizabeth what that gentleman had discussed.
“I must say it was nothing more than you expected,” she remarked.
“This places an unfair burden on you.”
“Fitzwilliam, from the day of your proposal, I have known, apparently better than you, that the greater burden of obtaining acceptance of our union would be mine. Nothing that has happened since has altered my understanding of the matter.”
“We have never truly discussed what you may expect during the coming season.”
“Other than my wardrobe.”
“I do not speak of what you will wear, Elizabeth, I speak of those who are spiteful and cruel and would like nothing better than so see you overwhelmed, even humiliated.”
“You will find such people everywhere, even in such inconsequential places as Meryton.”
“Yet if my family, well, at least those under the Earl’s thumb, are so intent on indifference, it will make things worse, not better. The ton will pick up on their attitude, no matter what my uncle believes.”
“Lady Victoria is not part of their scheme. I must take some consolation from that. Did you believe they would act any differently?”
“No, I did not. I could even argue that I incited such a response by my behaviour in Kent when I informed them of our betrothal. It could never be mistaken as conciliatory.”
“You have spoken very little of what occurred at Rosings.”
“And I do not wish to talk about it now. Suffice it to say that my relations acted exactly as I anticipated. So it is little wonder that we are to be treated the same way now.”
“It will make my first season that much more challenging,” Elizabeth agreed.
“You shall not have to bear it alone. I will not forsake you in the face of the harridans of society.”
“Fitzwilliam, you are an honourable man, and I would expect nothing less than your support, as you are able. However, you are not the unknown country upstart who married one of the ‘most eligible men in England,’ as my mother once called you. There will be many times when you are safely away with the gentlemen, and I shall be left to fend for myself amongst those ‘harridans’ in the drawing rooms of society.”
“When you speak that way about drawing rooms, you make them sound absolutely primitive.”
Elizabeth laughed, breaking the tension. “In their own way, they might be. Fear not, I will survive. By the time Lady Victoria has finished with me, I shall be impervious to even the most subtle of attacks. Besides, there will be good, honourable people in those same drawing rooms. I shall make it a point to meet them.”
“Elizabeth, do not think my aunt is coming only…”
“We both know very well why she is coming to Pemberley. Truly, dearest, I am not offended, far from it. I know nothing about being presented at Court, or the intricacies of higher society. I look forward to learning much from Lady Victoria. And if I feel she is overstepping, I am perfectly willing to tell her so.
“I am determined to be concerned only with matters over which I have control, Fitzwilliam. I have confidence in the rightness of your actions and I believe myself capable of becoming the Mrs Darcy you expect and deserve. Surely the world in general has too much sense to remain fascinated for very long with any scorn they may perceive from some members of your… our family towards me. Perhaps we should wish for an enormous scandal during the season to distract the ton?”
And on that note, Mr and Mrs Darcy adjourned to their chambers.
On the morning of their last full day in Brighton, Elizabeth marvelled at what she beheld – clear, bright, crisp weather. It was a rare thing in the dead of the English winter. The sunshine warmed her cheeks as they walked along the seaside, and a gentle wind made those same cheeks pink.
“Are you warm enough?” Darcy inquired as Elizabeth leaned into him.
“I shall manage. I refuse to waste the opportunity to enjoy the sun. It is so seldom that I have the chance at this time of year.”
Once assured that Elizabeth was not too cold, Darcy was content to continue their ramble for he, too, luxuriated in the warmth of the sunshine. They walked in silence, satisfied to listen to the sound of the surf and the sea gulls, each immersed in their own musings.
Elizabeth’s thoughts were tuned to the man beside her. It had been a revealing fortnight. They had come to Brighton to learn more about each other, and, she suspected, to give him the opportunity to gently introduce her into his level of society. He had been disappointed not to meet anyone he knew, or knew to be of his class. Darcy’s reaction to the people they did encounter was unexpected, to say the least. Elizabeth had known her husband to be a man proud of his estate, his family name, and his station in life. She did not suspect that he could look so disdainfully on people he believed to be decidedly below him. His attitude was confirmed each time they ventured from their lodgings. They had walked about the town when the weather allowed and attended several events in the evenings. His prejudice needed little inducement. Something as trivial as an inferior cut of clothing was enough for him to judge the worthiness of a new acquaintance, to exhibit that same hauteur he had displayed the very first time they had ventured into society at the assembly room. They had even discussed it. She would not have let the subject drop as easily as she had were she not so intent on confessing her feelings that night; she had simply swept past it. It was not until later, when she was alone with her thoughts, that she was able to further consider the words and actions of her spouse.
What were her opinions on the subject? Elizabeth was not one to think of herself as very far above others, but she had to admit that her exposure to higher society, where gradations of rank were evidently of considerable importance, had been extremely limited before her marriage. She now understood that although her father was also a gentleman, there were more significant differences than she had anticipated between Mr Bennet’s situation and her husband’s. It occurred to her that Darcy had, from the first, merely tolerated her relations. But to be truthful, though she loved her family, she had often been disgusted by the unseemly manners and foolishness of her mother, her three younger sisters, and her Aunt Philips. To hold her husband guilty for feelings she herself owned was ungenerous. He did appear to respect her father, despite his lack of connections, and he seemed genuinely happy for Jane and Mr Bingley. His opinion of the Gardiners was unclear.
She knew that no one was perfect, that everyone had flaws; she might have uncovered Darcy’s. Clearly, this could become an issue between them if she were not careful. No one had taught her how to respond, in a way that did not contradict her vows, when she did not agree with her husband. It was something she would have to learn on her own. She could either accept his prejudices, dwell on them, or try to use her influence to soften his manner. Perhaps she should wait; it had been but a fortnight since she had noticed this disdainful side of his character, and with only a small segment of society. She could observe his manner at Pemberley, and when amongst Derbyshire society, before deciding what to do. Above all, he was her husband, and she had vowed to love, honour, and obey him.
While Elizabeth was contemplating the pride of her husband, Darcy was just as occupied thinking about his wife.
His purpose in coming to Brighton had been met, though the outcome had caught him off guard. He and Elizabeth were now quite comfortable with each other, whether in the privacy of their chambers or strolling along the seaside, as they were now. She continued to demonstrate the superiority of her understanding, and Darcy relished the thought that he would enjoy her intelligence and wit for many years to come. The cold months of winter no longer seemed so daunting as when, virtually alone and housebound at Pemberley, he first accepted that his family was gone and that he must take a wife.
And what a wife he had taken! Elizabeth certainly seemed to enjoy warming his bed — an unexpected, but very welcome, surprise. Though he was still not comfortable with the knowledge that his wife was in love with him, he was beginning to see that the result of her confession need not be total doom. If anything, it allowed Elizabeth greater freedom to enjoy their intimate times together. Her willingness to become more adventurous surprised and delighted him. Since her declaration, he noticed an even greater passion when they were alone together, a greater tenderness, a greater enjoyment in the physical expression of her love. She cleaved to him in a way he had never before experienced with a woman. He admitted that it moved him, and that he savoured his time in her arms. At the same time, he knew he must protect his own heart. He could not allow his need for her body to turn into a devotion of an even more intimate, and most ardent, kind.
Darcy had been concerned about Elizabeth’s behaviour towards him in public after their dinner with Colonel Fitzwilliam. If his confirmed bachelor of a cousin could discern her feelings, would she betray herself in society?
He need not have worried.
The next event they attended was a concert. Some time after they arrived, he found Elizabeth to be unusually quiet and reserved, although she assured him that she was well. Darcy was not convinced, and inquired if she wished to leave. He was surprised when she asked him to escort her outside for some fresh air. Once alone, Elizabeth told him that she had only been attempting to follow his wish not to become attached to the people they encountered in Brighton. At that point, he realized that when in society such as this, the mask he donned ill-suited Elizabeth. To conceal the artless sincerity that had first attracted him would repress too much of her.
Darcy confessed that he now saw the injustice of asking her to act in a way contrary to her nature, and told her to enjoy herself as well as she could, knowing that she would likely never meet these people again. Elizabeth visibly relaxed, and rewarded him with a smile – a smile that demanded one in return. They returned indoors, and she seemed more like the Elizabeth he had married. As long as she could discern the sincerity of the people she would meet in future, and make sound judgements about the worthiness of their character and situation, he was content to allow her a certain freedom of expression in company that she so obviously enjoyed. But that would change; Elizabeth must learn to be more guarded when amongst the ton. The liveliness he so appreciated in his wife would be less valued by London society, where stricter rules of decorum prevailed. Thank God Lady Victoria would be there to guide her through the first few weeks of the season! Without that matron’s experience, he wondered if his wife could emerge from the dreaded drawing rooms with the Darcy name unscathed. So much of her acceptance into society depended on a good initial impression. His family had made it clear, through Fitzwilliam, that they would not seek to humble his bride, but neither were they of any mind to aid her. At least the Earl had not become an outright enemy. Darcy vowed that Elizabeth’s comportment would do nothing to change that.
Elizabeth would be recognized as a worthy Mrs Darcy.
The Darcy coach slowly traversed the last five miles of the long journey from London to Pemberley. Darcy could have sworn that every inhabitant of Lambton, the small market town that bordered his estate, sought a glimpse of the new Mistress of the Great House. Windows were thrown open and dogs danced around the wheels of the carriage, barking heralds of the Darcys’ progress through the main thoroughfare of the town. Elizabeth maintained a pleasant look on her face as they made their way, neither acknowledging nor ignoring the curious horde. Surprised and a little disconcerted at the villagers’ interest, she was not entirely sure what was expected from her, and her mind was otherwise occupied: she was eager to see the manor she would preside over, and tired from the long journey that had brought her there.
After the Darcys left Brighton, they had stayed in Town for a few days. For Elizabeth, there seemed to be no end to the list of items deemed indispensable to a woman of her new rank. She had stopped trying to keep track of all the fabric that the seamstresses of her household, and a few outside her household, would transform into a myriad of gowns for her to wear. Surely she had acquired more in the few weeks since her marriage than in her entire existence to that point! Being imprisoned in a carriage for consecutive days was not a pleasant thought, but when they finally left Town, Elizabeth was happy to escape from endless trips to drapers, craftsmen, and High Street merchants.
Now, three long and draining days later, the journey was finally nearing its end. It was nearly an hour since they passed through Lambton, and they had been travelling uphill for not quite half that time. As they reached the crest of the hill, Darcy ordered the coach to stop, opened the door and handed Elizabeth out. She was rendered speechless by the sight before her — an immense, grand house on the other side of a valley.
Of all this I am to be mistress?
“Do you like it?”
“Fitzwilliam, nothing you have told me has done it justice.” Elizabeth’s surprise and awe were evident. Her fatigue instantly vanished.
“Come, let us continue on to the house. There are many people who have long awaited your arrival. I want to get there before we lose the light.”
When the carriage arrived at the house, Darcy quickly escorted his wife inside. The front hall was filled with servants dressed in assorted livery, and the atmosphere fairly crackled with anticipation and excitement. Darcy made a short speech thanking the staff for their warm welcome of his bride, allowed Elizabeth to briefly greet the servants, then dismissed them to their tasks with the promise of punch and cake with their dinner that night in celebration of his marriage. Elizabeth was pleased to discern an unspoken affection toward their master.
A light repast was available when they wished, and was gratefully accepted sooner rather than later. Both Darcys were tired, and food and rest were all they desired. As the fires in the grates throughout the great house burned low, Master and Mistress drifted off to sleep in the room that had belonged to the late Lady Anne Darcy, once again occupied after so many empty years.
Elizabeth had no idea of the time when she awoke. It was still dark out, no great surprise at that time of year. She was alone in bed, but only because her husband was tending to the fire.
“I tried to be quiet and not wake you. I was concerned that if I did not do something with the fire, the room would be too cold for you at first light.”
“You must be chilled; hurry and finish so you can come back to bed.” Elizabeth pulled back the covers when he came to join her. “Lie on your side of the bed and warm up before you inflict your cold hands and feet on me,” she commanded.
“I would warm up much faster if I held you.”
“True, but then I would also be cold.”
Darcy stayed on his side of the mattress. “How do you like Pemberley, Mrs Darcy?”
“From what I have seen, I like it very much indeed.”
“I shall give you a proper tour in the morning. Unless…”
Darcy threw back the covers from both of them and put on his robe.
“What are you doing?” Elizabeth hissed. “In case you forgot, it is cold in here.” She pulled the blanket back over herself. Darcy did not notice; he had failed to locate one of Elizabeth’s heavy robes and was on his way to his dressing room. A minute later, he came back with another of his own robes and held it out to his wife.
“I could not locate yours, so I fetched one of mine.”
“You wish me to put on your robe?”
“So that I might show you some of the house.”
“Now? Fitzwilliam, it is cold, it is dark, it is the middle of the night. What would the servants say if they saw us?”
“The servants know to keep their thoughts to themselves. As for the cold, that is why I brought you one of my robes. As for the dark, I will light the candles on the branches and take it with us. Now, are you getting out of bed, or do I need to roust you myself?”
“Oh, very well,” Elizabeth grumbled. It really was the middle of the night.
Feeling a bit like a mischievous schoolboy, Darcy hurried the still reluctant Elizabeth down the stairs. The candles barely threw enough light for them to see, but with bright moonlight streaming through the windows, they could see just enough to make their excursion worthwhile.
“Most of the principal rooms are on this floor. The dining room, music room, library, my study, and the main hall are all here. When all the doors are open, you can see from one end of the house to the other.”
They walked through the progression of rooms, stopping to talk about their uses and their furnishings. Elizabeth was impressed by the elegance of it all – from the carpets, to furnishings, to what she could make out of the paintings on the walls. It was quite evident that generations of Darcys had been patrons of the arts, if the sheer volume of artwork was any indication.
“The family portraits are in the main hall. I commissioned one of you, which you will sit for it as soon as we return to Town. With any luck, it will be ready when you are presented.”
“Such a thing is necessary,” she said in resignation.
“Most definitely. It would be odd if you did not have a portrait to unveil whilst we are in London.”
“I have never had my likeness taken. My mother could never convince my father to have one done. I rather think it was because he despaired of my ever being able to sit still long enough.”
As they walked along the gallery, looking at the various Darcys of the past, a light came towards them from the opposite direction.
“Who goes there?” a deep voice challenged from the darkness beyond.
“I could ask the same of you,” Darcy retorted.
“Mr Darcy! Forgive me, sir. I heard voices and came to investigate.”
“You have discovered their source, and you may now go.”
“Yes sir, Mr Darcy, sir.”
“Well done. I am pleased to see that you are not asleep at your post.”
“Thank you, sir. Goodnight, sir, madam.”
Elizabeth, who found the situation quite diverting, was valiantly trying to suppress a laugh when she saw the expression on her husband’s face. He looked… playful? Yet another new facet of her husband’s character! She was undone, and laughter spilled from them both.
What a complex man I have married.
“I think I like this night-time rambling. The house does not seem as intimidating when there are no servants underfoot.”
“Intimidating? I would think you are a woman whose courage rises at every attempt to intimidate her.”
Elizabeth sighed. “Fitzwilliam, you know that Longbourn, and even Netherfield, are nothing to Pemberley. I can scarcely believe that I am mistress of such a place. How on earth did I ever think I could manage a household of this size?”
It took him several moments to formulate an answer, and in that breath of time, Elizabeth convinced herself that her husband shared her opinion; he was merely choosing his words. Thus, those words, when they came, surprised her.
“I believe that what you think yourself capable of and what you truly are capable of do not always coincide.”
“You think I am ready now?”
“I think that if you are not, you will be in time. In the interim, Mrs Reynolds can continue to act as she has since my mother died. You need not feel obliged to relieve her of all her duties at once. Besides, if you did, what would she have left to do?”
“This is no trifling matter, Mr Darcy!” Thankfully for him, she smiled as she spoke.
“I do not trifle with you. Soon, Elizabeth, sooner than you expect, this transition will be complete, and you will reign as rightful Mistress of Pemberley, with no need of anyone’s assistance or interference.”
“The faith you have in me is at times overwhelming. But I am most grateful, husband. Thank you.” They stood now in front of his portrait. “I do not wish to disappoint you, or the man on the canvas before me.”
“There is barely enough light to make out my features.”
“Enough to see that you are a formidable man, Fitzwilliam.”
Darcy offered his arm and guided them back to the warmth of the mistress’ chambers. And the warmth of the mistress’ bed.
Darcy allocated the next several days to showing Elizabeth the house and, weather permitting, parts of the estate. Elizabeth was astonished by the amount of land her husband controlled, which only accentuated all the more the vast — and vastly underestimated — differences in their stations in life when they married. She had known that Pemberley was a great estate, but ‘great’ had been a vague and relative term, her frame of reference confined to Longbourn, Netherfield, and short tours of fine country houses, about which she knew nothing beyond the quality of their furnishings. What power for good and for evil Darcy held in his hands! So many people were under his care, so many relied upon him and Pemberley for their prosperity; not only the servants and fieldhands, but the town of Lambton, as well.
She also noticed another change in his manners. Whilst in Hertfordshire, he was somewhat guarded; in Brighton, aloof. At Pemberley, he was relaxed, yet there was an earnest concern for the fate of those who were dependent on him. She heard him spoken of as the kindest of landlords and the most generous of masters. From what Elizabeth observed, she would agree with that assessment, but this was still in contrast to the haughtiness he showed in Brighton. It was somewhat of a mystery how the same man could act so differently in company from one locale to the next. She wondered what the inevitable social events in the neighbourhood would entail. How would he behave amongst his neighbours, and what would he — and they — expect of her?
There was one particular part of the house that he did not immediately show her. She knew there was a floor in the guest wing that they had yet to inspect and wondered when he would take her there. She was left in suspense for only an additional day. Darcy found her finishing a consultation with the housekeeper.
“I have neglected to show you one part of the house, Mrs. Darcy. Would you care to see it now?”
“I am at your disposal. Mrs Reynolds and I have completed our business.” The older lady discreetly withdrew. Darcy led the way though many doors and up a flight of stairs.
“This wing contains the remainder of the guest quarters.”
“We are some distance from the family apartments, are we not?”
“Yes, nearly the opposite end of the house.”
“A perfect location for unruly family members?”
Darcy smiled a little and patted his wife’s hand. “Yes, a perfect place.”
Elizabeth wondered at his evident reluctance to show her these chambers. The rooms were handsomely fitted, but nothing more than she expected to find at Pemberley, and little different from other chambers she had already seen. Until they came to the last one. Elizabeth was astonished. It was at least as large as her own quarters, and the furniture and wall coverings, though clearly from an earlier era, were especially elegant and richly adorned. A great bed dominated the view. It was unlike any other room in the house, the kind of room she imagined that royalty would inhabit. She turned and looked at Darcy, questions written all over her face.
“This room was prepared for a visit by the Prince of Wales in 1716. It is still referred to as the Wales Bedroom.” Darcy sighed and continued on. “Before my father died, he told me the room’s secret. The Prince invited himself to stay at Pemberley during one of his journeys into Derbyshire. Though not happy with the prospect of hosting the man, my great-great grandfather ordered that no expense be spared to prepare suitable accommodations for him. My ancestor hoped to cultivate ties to the future monarch that would result in benefits to Pemberley and the family.
“Alas, though the Prince came with a host of attendants, his wife did not accompany him. Unknown to my grandfather, two of His Royal Highness’ paramours also came as guests of the Prince. Word is that the women were surprised to see each other. The exact events of that night have thankfully been lost to the mists of time. All that is known is that a highly indignant Prince of Wales left Pemberley the next day, followed shortly by the departures of the two women in question, headed in opposite directions, and just as ill-tempered and put out as the Prince. God only knows what happened in this room or how my ancestor was able to keep the incident from becoming public knowledge. Never before or since has there been a situation that could have brought shame and scorn down on our family’s good name.
Elizabeth was amused at the dire look on her husband’s face.
“Fitzwilliam, I believe that the Prince was rather infamous for his mistresses. Your family has nothing of which to be ashamed.”
“It is no small matter, Elizabeth,” his tone signifying just how serious he was. “For generations, the Darcys have scrupulously avoided scandal. For such disreputable behaviour to have taken place under our own roof was unpardonable. I am mortified to think on it.”
“Then why have you told me?”
“As a token of my respect. Would you rather I had not? We have spoken honestly with each other from the first. I hesitated to bring you here precisely because I struggled with what I should reveal. In the end, the truth prevailed, although I am still uneasy speaking of such things with you, as any decent man should be. To take a mistress is bad enough. To have two at the same time — and under the same roof — is unconscionable.”
“Has the room been used since?”
“No. No member of the royal household has come to Pemberley since then. The room is normally kept closed. I had Mrs Reynolds open it for your benefit.”
Elizabeth took one more long look about the room. “Fitzwilliam, it is a room fit for a king.” After a short pause she added, “Perhaps it is good enough to impress my mother?”
Mrs Bennet’s son-in-law wisely kept his opinion to himself.
As for Mrs Bennet’s daughter, a small smile flitted across her lips as a daring thought sprang to life. It entirely escaped Darcy’s notice.
A few days later, Marie gave the housekeeper a note from her mistress. Mrs Reynolds read the instructions and looked at the maid in wonder.
“Do you know what Mrs. Darcy has requested?”
“Oui, and Madame asks if it can be accomplished today? Or will it require an additional day?”
“Inform Mrs Darcy that all will be ready this evening. Those rooms were cleaned recently, and it should not take long to prepare them as requested.”
Before Elizabeth retired for the night, she asked Darcy to wait for her in the study. He was surprised, but acquiesced. After a while, but not so long as to try Darcy’s patience, a footman delivered a note to the master.
I await you in the place fit for the ruler of my heart.
Darcy’s blood pounded through his veins.
The Wales Bedroom. It had to be.
He seized a candleholder and quickly walked to the door of the opulent room he had shown Elizabeth only a few days before. As he entered, Darcy felt warm air assault his face, in marked contrast to the chill of the darkened hallway. A blaze raged in the firebox, casting dancing light across the room. Illuminated by the warm glow of dozens of candles was Elizabeth Darcy, lying against the pillows on the massive bed, her auburn locks cascading over her shoulders. She wore a nearly transparent ivory nightgown that clung to her, outlining the curves of her body against the dark drapes of the bed linen.
“Mr Darcy, you have come at last.”
Trembling, he walked to the edge of the bed and stood before her.
“We should not be here.”
Elizabeth put her finger to his lips.
“You told me that the future ruler of England met his mistresses here.” Sliding her finger slowly down his lips, down his neck, and onto his chest, she continued in her most seductive voice, “Fitzwilliam, am I not your mistress?”
“Which is it?”
Elizabeth smiled in triumph. She snaked her arms about his waist and with a passionate kiss pulled him down onto the bed. He could do nothing but obey her …
A large carriage pulled into the circular path leading to the front steps of Pemberley, where the master and mistress were waiting. The coachman opened the door and Darcy extended his hand to assist his guest.
“Lady Victoria, welcome to Pemberley.”
“Darcy, attentive as ever. Mrs Darcy, how nice to see you again.”
“Thank you. We are delighted that you are here. Please, come inside where it is warm.”
Once within and divested of their wraps, Elizabeth asked, “Lady Victoria, would you prefer refreshments now, or to go to your rooms directly? Your usual chambers have been made ready for you.”
“Then there is no need to show me the way. I would like to attend to a few things first. After that, I would be delighted to join you.”
“Allow me to accompany you,” Darcy said, tucking his aunt’s arm into his.
“I know my way, Darcy.”
“I insist. Mrs Darcy, I will return to you shortly.”
Elizabeth took her dismissal with good grace, and repaired to the drawing room.
“Elizabeth looks well, Darcy. At least you have not been starving the poor woman.”
“You know very well that I would never do such a thing. A man appreciates a soft woman.”
“Ha! I have always maintained such, but you are the first man other than my Reginald to say so plainly.” She smiled. “Tell me truly, are you as happy as you appear?”
“I would say that I am a very contented man, Aunt. My wife is an amazing woman.”
“Have all your doubts been answered?”
“Mostly, I confess. She has a natural aptitude for her responsibilities. However, there is still the Season and St James’s Court. I will not rest easy until that challenge and our first ball are past.”
“That is wise of you. How quickly has she settled into her role as Mistress of Pemberley?”
“More rapidly than I dared hope. We have yet to entertain anyone from the neighbourhood, with the exception of Mr Mitchell, the parson, who came for tea last Sunday, but I have enough faith in Elizabeth to press forward as planned with our social obligations.”
“Good, good. I shall be down to join you and your wife within the half-hour. Darcy, it is a pleasure to be here now that Pemberley once again has a proper mistress.”
Lady Victoria did not tarry in her rooms and was back with her hosts in good time.
“We expect Mr Bartholomew Arnold to arrive on Monday,” Elizabeth told her as she poured the tea.
“Monday? My son is most attentive to his parish duties. Have you met him, Mrs Darcy?”
“Not yet. The weather has been very cold and I am told that Kympton is several hours away. Mr Darcy suggested timing his invitation coincident with your arrival.”
“That is most considerate. I have not seen him in months, not since he announced his engagement.”
“We have invited Miss Tell and her family to dine with us whilst he is here.”
Darcy added, “Our neighbours, the Halleys, will be joining the Tells.”
“A full table of guests! Your first, Mrs Darcy?”
“Presiding over, yes, as you are no doubt aware.”
“Come, come, my dear.” She patted Elizabeth’s hand reassuringly. “You have been married for little more than a month, and travelled about the country at that. I would have been surprised had you already hosted a dinner party, or any social gathering, for that matter.”
Lady Victoria had decided to be generous, at least initially, with her praise of her nephew’s wife. There would be time enough to test the young woman in the coming weeks, and it was best to begin their time together on pleasant terms.
“I have every confidence that it will be a delightful evening. If we lack for entertainment, we can ask my son to sing the praises of the bewitching Miss Amelia Tell.”
Darcy nearly choked on his drink.
“I see you have been subjected to my son’s rhapsodies over his intended, Darcy.”
He arched his brow. Elizabeth answered for him. “My husband has described Mr Arnold’s enthusiasm about his choice of wife.”
“Enthusiasm is a fine choice of words. The man is completely besotted and the lady in question seems equally afflicted. It will serve them well; the realities of a clergyman’s life are significantly different from what Miss Tell has known. But you have given him a valuable living, Darcy. They should be comfortable enough in Kympton.”
“I was pleased to have such a fine man to bestow it upon. Its former intended recipient was rather less suitable. Elizabeth, you met that man at Bingley’s ball.”
“Yes, I remember him. He told me that he would not have made a good clergyman.”
“No, not at all. I hear nothing but praise for my cousin, and it comforts me to know that the people of the parish are so well tended.”
“I am looking forward to making his acquaintance, and meeting some of our neighbours.”
“One must start somewhere, my dear,” Lady Victoria said in assurance.
Later, when she retired for the evening, Lady Victoria declined Darcy’s invitation to escort her to her rooms, instead choosing Elizabeth’s company.
“I would not have you think that I have come only to give your husband my impressions of you, my dear,” she laughed. “I am delighted to be at Pemberley once again. It has been too long.”
“When were you last here?”
“Several years ago. Not long after Fitzwilliam’s father died, I came to stay with him and Georgiana. They were both so alone. I stayed for several months as Fitzwilliam grew into his role as master. I returned twice for visits, but never stayed long. I intended to return the summer before last, but after Georgiana’s accident, your husband was not entertaining guests.”
“He told me he was not at Pemberley often during that time. Only as much as the estate required.”
“You are with him here, now. I hope you do not resent my presence.”
“I beg your pardon, but that is nonsense. We both know why Mr Darcy asked you to come.” Elizabeth turned and looked Lady Victoria full in the face. “Madam, I truly welcome your assistance and am most grateful for it. I freely admit that I need all the help and advice that you are willing to provide. Heavens, I even need someone to teach me how to walk in a Court dress!”
Darcy’s aunt eyed her nephew’s wife. She could see that the young woman spoke truthfully and without guile. There was an artlessness about Elizabeth that the older woman found endearing. Her first impressions had proved valid – Elizabeth was an intelligent woman who could become an accepted member of the ton. If Lady Victoria Arnold had any say in the matter, Elizabeth Darcy would do just that.
The sounds of a pianoforte echoed through the house. Lady Victoria followed the melody to the music room where she found the mistress steadfastly working her way through a difficult passage. Elizabeth did not hear the other woman enter, and, after a rather dreadful chord, stopped and gave voice to her frustrations.
“Leave it to you, Lizzy, to ignore the one accomplishment that you need as a hostess.”
“Do not be so severe on yourself, Mrs. Darcy. You are playing a rather challenging piece.”
Elizabeth threw her hand to her chest, startled.
“I did not hear you enter. Forgive me.”
“You have a good notion of the fingerings. It will come to you in time.”
“It would come to me sooner had I spent more time practicing whilst growing up! I have not applied myself so diligently in years. Mr Darcy insists that I spend time each day improving myself on the instrument. I would rather spend my time learning about Pemberley, but I understand his position and thus, do as I am asked.”
“Ah yes, the dreaded exhibiting. Be thankful when you are old enough, or have enough children, to be past such displays. Has Darcy offered to bring you a master?”
“Yes, which I have declined at present. It would be a hideous waste to bring a master all the way from London when an hour a day is all I can spare for the instrument. Once we are in Town, I will avail myself of a teacher, but for now, I am left to my own devises. Unless you are able to assist me?”
“No, you are doing quite well enough without my interference. I should let you continue.”
“Please, stay. I have practised enough for one day. I would enjoy your company, and we have a Court dress to discuss.”
“Ah, yes, the feathers and hoops. Have you a selected a design?”
“Not as yet, although my maid and I have had several conversations about her experiences with Miss Wyatt, who made her bow whilst Marie was in her service. I have also reviewed the latest published fashion plates. I have to admit that when younger, my sister Jane and I agreed that we were very happy not to have to wear such complicated gowns.” Elizabeth sighed. “It does seem an enormous waste of time and money on regalia that I will wear only once.”
“Perhaps, but the Queen is very insistent about what must be worn.”
“Fortunately, Marie seems to have a talent for designing elaborate gowns. She has shown me some of her drawings, and I would like you to see them as well. Work on the gown must commence very soon if it is to be ready in time.”
“Do you have all the fabrics and hoops that are needed?”
“I believe so. I was very busy during the few days we were in Town. The basic components of the dress are in my possession, and the servants are awaiting direction.”
The two ladies spoke with Elizabeth’s maid, then with the other seamstresses on the staff. Lady Victoria counselled against elaborate embroidery, favouring instead the use of subtle colour and different textures to achieve the desired effect. Her reasoning was two-fold – to save time, and to free some of the ladies to work on other garments; Elizabeth still needed a great many new gowns. Marie, responsible for designing the Court dress, was also delegated the task of creating a mock headdress and a hooped skirt with train that Elizabeth would use to rehearse for her debut.
The much-anticipated Bartholomew Arnold finally arrived at Pemberley. Darcy was pleased to have another man in the family party; all the talk of gowns, Court protocol, headdresses, and the need for this item or that had sorely tested his resolve to bring his wife before the Court.
Arnold laughed at the look on his cousin’s face when Darcy described what had occupied Elizabeth and Lady Victoria.
“If you had waited for a later date, you would not be in the throes of the females’ schemes,” Arnold remarked when he and Darcy were alone after dinner.
“You, my innocent cousin, do not understand my tactics. The sooner the date, the sooner this will be a distant memory. My wife shall have her day in Court and her night at the ball we shall hold to mark the occasion. Following that, I may disappear back into the country.”
“Only to reappear when your daughter performs her curtsey.”
“You have forgotten that you have no sisters. My wife may bear only sons.”
“Enough of this! I am to be married in a month to a wonderful woman, and frankly, I have no pity to spare on you. You have your bride, I await mine.”
“Ah, yes, the wedding, how could I have forgotten?”
“You need not be so sarcastic.”
“You need not be so verbose in extolling Miss Tell’s virtues.”
“I am not stopping you from extolling Mrs Darcy’s virtues. She is a handsome and clever woman, Cousin. It is apparent that my mother likes her, even if she claimed she was not ready to form a judgement when they first met. Mrs Darcy seems to have won her favour.”
“To my relief. Elizabeth needed a sponsor and an advisor. Aunt Victoria graciously consented to act as both.
“You do know that the Tells and the Halleys come to Pemberley for dinner on the day after tomorrow?”
“Miss Tell informed me by letter.”
“You should be thankful that your intended lives so near. Waiting for letters would otherwise be interminable.”
“Her family resides close enough to easily visit, yet far enough to prevent the journey from becoming an everyday occurrence.”
“I count the distance from Elizabeth’s family in Hertfordshire as a definite advantage. A woman can settle too near her parents. Fortunately, you have nothing to worry about. The Tells are a reputable, well-bred family. You can have no cause to repine.”
“I take it, then, that your circumstances are not as favourable?”
“Elizabeth’s mother could be Aunt Alice’s long-lost twin sister.”
“So that is the lay of the land! I have not had the privilege of spending as much time as you with the Earl and his family, but enough to pity our cousins. I am thankful for my parents, Mother especially. So unlike the Earl, or Lady Catherine.”
“Your mother is nothing like her siblings, my own mother excluded.”
“Much to my own and my brothers’ joy — and relief.”
Pemberley was readied for the pre-nuptial dinner with the Tells and the Halleys. Mr Mitchell, the Darcys’ parson, had also been included in the invitation. An early meal was planned and rooms readied should the weather turn poor and the families be unable to travel home under the light of the moon. Bartholomew Arnold was very eager for his intended bride to arrive; Darcy, Elizabeth, and Lady Victoria had all laughed at his lovesick impatience.
Elizabeth also might have teased her new cousin, but she was far too nervous. The dinner would be her first official event as Pemberley’s newest Mistress; she was anxious that the evening be a success. Darcy assured her that she had no cause for concern. The families had known each other for years, and he had every confidence that their guests were eager to be pleased and would find her as charming as he knew she was.
That is easy for him to say, she mused, he is not the interloper. She had not grown up with these people. To make matters worse, she likely would be the youngest person present – the hostess younger than all her guests! Percival and Evelina Halley had raised and married off all their children; they had ten grandchildren to dote on, and a few more on the way. Miss Tell was the last of her siblings to marry, and Elizabeth had learned that Amelia was two years older than she. Mr Mitchell, a widower, had three grown children.
The Tells’ carriage was first to arrive. Arnold was there to open the door as soon as the conveyance came to rest. He handed out a beautiful young woman before giving way to an older gentleman who followed next out of the carriage. Everyone quickly went inside to escape the cold.
“Mrs Darcy, may I present Miss Amelia Tell.”
“Miss Tell, a pleasure. I have heard so much about you and your family.”
The gentleman from the carriage and the older woman on his arm were in turn introduced.
Mr Tell spoke, “Charmed, madam. I have been anxious to meet the woman who finally captured my diffident neighbour.”
Mr Tell and his wife smiled in genuine pleasure at making Elizabeth’s acquaintance and their hostess immediately relaxed, instinctively knowing that these were good people. Their years of friendship with the Pemberley family had predisposed them to approve of Darcy’s choice.
Within half an hour, the Halleys arrived, followed shortly by Mr Mitchell, making the party an even ten. They gathered in a parlour to await the summons to dinner. As was customary in the country, they would eat earlier than they would in Town; Elizabeth had planned a two-course meal with a light late supper to be served just prior to her guests’ departure.
The food was praised, the conversation was pleasant, and all seemed to enjoy each other’s company. After dinner, the women left the men to their pursuits, and Elizabeth had a chance to become better acquainted with the ladies.
“Mrs Darcy, I am told you came from Hertfordshire,” said Mrs Halley.
“Yes, my father’s estate, Longbourn, is near the town of Meryton.”
“That is where you met Mr Darcy?” Mrs Tell asked.
“His friend, Mr Bingley, leased a nearby estate, and Mr Darcy came to visit. We met at an assembly. Mr Bingley is to marry my elder sister at the end of March.”
“Both friends smitten with sisters! How charming!” Mrs Tell continued, “Do you have other siblings?”
“Yes, three younger sisters.”
“No brother to inherit? It is fortunate that you were able to secure such a husband.”
Elizabeth inwardly bristled, then rallied her composure. Mrs Tell’s tone was not cutting, and she did, after all, speak only the simple truth. “Stop it, Lizzie! If you take offence at such a small and surely unintentional slight, how will you survive London’s drawing rooms? Some of those matrons will make a real effort to draw blood.” She drew a breath, then smiled at the speaker. “I consider myself the most fortunate woman in the world, Mrs Tell. You all know what an excellent man my husband is – you must agree that there is no finer.”
“Mrs Darcy, I am afraid you will not find us in complete agreement,” said Lady Victoria. “I think it safe to say that every woman should believe that her own husband is the better man.”
“Forgive me, I did not mean to disparage…”
Mrs Tell graciously put an end to Elizabeth’s discomposure. “Mrs Darcy, I, for one, think it quite romantic that you have such strong feelings for your husband.”
“As do I,” Amelia Tell said to further reassure Elizabeth, “I can very much understand your feelings.”
“Marriage seems to suit your husband,” Mrs Tell continued. “I have not seen him so congenial since before Miss Darcy’s death, although he was never what one would call an unreserved man.” The other ladies nodded in agreement. “He never prattled away like some young men do these days. Always so very serious.”
Lady Victoria joined the conversation. “Not that he was always so reserved. When he was a lad, he got into his own share of mischief. My sister’s letters would be full of this or that bit of boyish mayhem. He certainly kept his parents’ attention. I have many stories I could tell, as could the other ladies whose sons he played with as a youth. Alas, with the death of his mother, he lost some of that joie de vivre.”
“And then when George Darcy died, he became Master of Pemberley and became the man his parents raised him to be,” Mrs Halley added. “It was extraordinary, if you consider it. So young and so many responsibilities.”
Elizabeth smiled at the fondness these women, who had known Darcy from the time he was born, held for her husband.
The three older women began to reminisce about people whom Elizabeth did not know, and Miss Tell took the opportunity to engage her in private discourse.
“Do not fret. I have never met some of the people they are speaking of now. I am thankful for the chance to get to know you better. We will be cousins soon.” Both young women smiled.
“I met Mr Arnold only a few days ago. I like him very much. He is a pleasant and intelligent man, most eager to be married.”
Amelia laughed. “We both are! My parents insisted on a long engagement, but as the months have droned on, I think Mother has begun to regret that decision. I suspect she is tired of my complaints about waiting.”
“My own engagement was rather short, not even two months.”
“I envy you.”
“It did not seem enviable at the time. Everything was so hectic. I think I was more relieved than happy when the wedding was over.”
“You are happy now, though. No one who has seen you with Mr Darcy can doubt it. I have known him all my life, and I am pleased that he has found a woman who could bring joy back into his life and into this house.”
The two women talked together until the gentlemen rejoined them, the older ladies content to let the two progress in their acquaintance. Elizabeth and Amelia, they knew, could develop an enduring friendship, founded on a similarity of age and temperament, kinship through their husbands, and the relatively short distance between their marital residences. The matrons were correct. Elizabeth and Amelia formed a good opinion of each other that evening, which would develop into a strong bond and secure a lifelong friendship. Jane would always hold that special place in Elizabeth’s heart that belonged only to a beloved sister, but Elizabeth would later call Amelia her closest friend after Jane.
The weather held and the dinner guests made it safely to their homes in a clear, bright moonlight. Darcy was pleased. The evening had gone very well indeed and Elizabeth had demonstrated that she was the consummate hostess. Lady Victoria complimented her before retiring for the night. And Darcy showed his satisfaction in a way only a lover could do.
A few days later, Bartholomew Arnold returned to Kympton, while his mother remained with the Darcys. Her presence was no intrusion. She and Elizabeth spent several hours each day discussing the upcoming season in Town. Lady Victoria did her best to educate her protégé on the many potential pitfalls the young woman would face in her foray into society. Elizabeth learned with whom Darcy was on good terms, and more importantly, with whom he was not. The complex web of social ties was drilled into the young woman, until she could identify each member of each prominent family she was likely to meet. Her education also included a thorough briefing on the scandals and scuttlebutt of the ton, and especially those associated with her new family.
Lady Victoria was not a sympathetic taskmaster. “Elizabeth,” she would say, “if you fail to remember that Lady _____ coveted your husband as a son-in-law, and are not on your guard when you meet her, you may justly draw her scorn and ridicule. Trust me, the woman is as vindictive as they come, and she will not be pleased that some country nobody stole Darcy from her daughter, no matter how repellent that simpering creature may be!”
The lessons also continued about Court.
“You must never turn you back on the Queen, which can make moving difficult when you must walk backwards. Concentrate on what I have told you!” Lady Victoria would say as Elizabeth practiced wearing the hooped skirt that was shaped similarly to the dress she would wear at St James’s.
Elizabeth bore all of the testing with good grace. Her new aunt would be purposely caustic, trying to goad her into losing her poise and her temper. Lady Victoria rarely succeeded, unless Elizabeth was particularly tired from attending to her other duties as mistress, or had an unsatisfactory time practicing on the pianoforte.
The work on Elizabeth’s Court dress was also moving forward. Several fitting were held to assure that the special gown designed to be worn before royalty would fit perfectly. Other gowns that Elizabeth would need were being sewn as well. After consultation with Lady Victoria and Mrs Reynolds, additional women were employed to produce the raiment necessary for Mrs Darcy.
Elizabeth was tired. She wanted nothing more than for it all to be over — the fuss and the fittings, the lessons, the presentation, the Season, the testing that would settle, once and she hoped for all, her suitability as a Darcy bride. She wanted nothing more than to settle in comfortably with her husband here at Pemberley, far away from that handful of social arbiters in London who had the power to decide if she was worthy of their notice. What gave them the right? What if she failed? Not a few times, she found herself frustrated or very close to anger. Not a few times, she questioned her decision to enter into this marriage. But then she would spy her husband, and her love for him filled her with strength and happiness. A lifetime with Fitzwilliam Darcy was worth anything. He had been most perceptive; she discovered within herself an unexpected courage that rose at the thought of any attempt to intimidate her. It would serve her well in the months ahead.
The seemingly endless fittings continued daily. One in particular stood out in both Elizabeth’s and Lady Victoria’s mind. Marie was once again checking the suitability of the fit of the bodice of the court dress. As the maid fretted and pulled at the garment’s neckline, Elizabeth winced in pain.
“Marie, faites attention, s’il vous plaît ! Je suis très sensible là-bas, comme vous le savez bien !”(“Marie, please be careful! I am very sensitive there, as you know.”)
“Pardonnez-moi, Madame, je vous en prie! Je serais plus prudente dorénavant.” (“Oh madam, forgive me. I will be more cautious in the future.”)
Lady Victoria’s attention was immediately drawn to the lack of English in the exchange, and by the implied meaning behind the words. She looked more closely at her new niece, studying her for signs of change. She could see nothing different, but did not fail to notice the blush that coloured Elizabeth’s cheeks, and the young woman’s inability to meet her eyes.
The wedding of Amelia Tell and Bartholomew Arnold was finally near at hand. The Earl consented to attend the ceremony as a sign of family approval. Lady Catherine could not be bothered to travel so far in winter, and in any event, her contempt for Darcy’s marriage outweighed, in her mind, all other considerations. Many months ago, well before the Bennet-Darcy wedding, it had been agreed that the Fitzwilliams and Arnolds were to stay at Pemberley. The now-strained relationship between Darcy and his uncle, and the continuing coolness between the Earl and Lady Victoria, dictated that the Earl and his wife stay elsewhere. The Tells would host them; there was, fortunately, a prior acquaintance between the families.
Elizabeth was relieved that at least one potentially explosive situation seemed to have been averted, but they would still play host to the entire Arnold clan. Michael Arnold and his wife Helen, Charles Arnold, and Joseph Arnold would come to see their brother married. None of the Fitzwilliam cousins would attend. Colonel Fitzwilliam sent his respects, but his army duties prevented his journey to Derbyshire. No one had expected his siblings to come and thus, were not disappointed when they begged off.
The first week of March found the Darcys inundated with family. Pemberley was nearer to the church where the wedding would take place than Kympton, which was in the opposite direction. Amelia Tell would be married from her father’s house, in the church where she had been baptized, and where she had worshipped since childhood.
Both Darcys rejoiced in opening Pemberley to so many of their family and sharing the happiness of their cousins. Elizabeth was delighted to further her acquaintance with the oldest and youngest Arnold sons and to meet Charles, who had been unable to come to Hertfordshire for her wedding. Michael’s wife, Helen, as she knew from their previous meetings, was a delightful woman, and Elizabeth enjoyed the time she was able to spend with Lady Victoria and her daughter-in-law.
The groom was the last to arrive at Pemberley. True to his convictions, he discharged his pastoral duties on Sunday before travelling to Pemberley to be with his family one last time before he became a married man.
The night before the wedding was a special evening. Elizabeth had arranged for all of the groom’s favourites to be served at dinner. The family party reminisced about days gone by: exploits from their youth, fond remembrances of those no longer alive, and hopes for the future filled the conversation that night.
After Elizabeth led the women to the drawing room after the meal, Darcy and Michael Arnold, as the married men, offered Bartholomew a few words of wisdom. When Darcy spoke of finding happiness and contentment in his marital union, the brothers were amazed to hear such words from their cousin. But his ease and seeming satisfaction with his life gave his words added power and authority. Even Michael was impressed. To those who did not truly know Darcy, he appeared to be the same man he had always been; to those who knew him well, it was evident that something had changed. All the Arnolds believed it was for the better, and only Darcy was oblivious to it all.
The men shared their spirits, cigars, and advice then reconvened with the ladies. The rest of the evening was spent listening to Elizabeth and Helen Arnold play the pianoforte; even the matriarch, Lady Victoria, was prevailed upon to provide a song.
As the evening came to a close, Darcy had several special bottles of wine brought in. Once everyone was in possession of a glass, he began.
“Bartholomew, some of my earliest memories are of you trailing behind, trying to be included in play with your older brothers and me. Little could I imagine the men we would one day become. When you chose to make the church your profession, one of my greatest delights as Master of Pemberley was to bestow the living at Kympton. Since the day you were installed in the parish, you have proven yourself a worthy man of the cloth. You have also proved worthy of the hand of one of my dearest friends, a woman I have known all of her life. Had you not been so worthy, I would never have allowed you near Amelia.” Everyone laughed.
“Tomorrow, you will take your biggest step towards happiness when you take Amelia Tell for you wife. Honour and cherish her as a husband ought, and you will secure an excellent helpmeet for all the days of your life. I am happy for you, and I am happy for Amelia. May God give you harmony and joy all the days of your life together. May your household expand with the gift of children, who will bring you delight as you grow old. And finally, may you never exceed your income.”
Again all laughed as they raised their glasses. It was a memorable end to a perfect evening.
Before retiring for the evening, Darcy made a point of speaking privately with the groom to be.
“I owe you an apology,” Darcy said. “Were it not for my disagreement with our uncle, the family party would have been more complete.”
“Do not worry, my friend. My brothers and I never have been close to our Fitzwilliam kin. The Earl never made an effort to know us; I am not sure he ever truly accepted us. I think his attendance is as much predicated on a design not to offend Amelia’s family as to support mine.”
“The Earl has always been concerned about appearances.”
“Thus he came to Derbyshire and brought his wife, but not his children. Darcy, I understand his motives and refuse to allow you to assume responsibility for his prejudices, much less his failings. He has not even had the courtesy to pay his respects to your new wife, despite being in the neighbourhood. I know you extended the invitation. The less thought of him, the better.”
“But the connection is important and you should retain it if at all possible.”
“I am a clergyman, Darcy.”
“You are a gentleman by birth. Remember your children before you dismiss it out of hand.”
“Oh, very well then, I shall. But enough of this. Off to your wife, old man. I look forward to privilege going to mine tomorrow.”
The following day, two young lovers were joined forever in Holy Matrimony. All those present rejoiced in the new union. At the wedding breakfast, Elizabeth was at last introduced to the Earl and his wife. The meeting was short; both couples were unfailingly polite for a few strained minutes until they could make their excuses and find more agreeable conversation with people they actually liked.
In the days following, the Darcys’ guests vacated Pemberley, including Lady Victoria, who travelled back to Town with her three sons and daughter-in-law. Neither did the Darcys tarry long at Pemberley. Preparations were made for the journey south. Directions were given for the upkeep of the house while the family was not in residence. Trunks were packed and carts were loaded with all that would be needed during the next few months. It was time to return to London society.
To Netherfield, first, they would go. Jane and Bingley’s wedding would take place at the end of the month, and Elizabeth wanted to be near her sister for at least the last few days before she shed the name of Bennet. Then the Darcys would journey to London, where all their hopes for Elizabeth’s entry into society waited.