TUESDAY’S TALE — 6/28/22

The honeymoon continues!

CHAPTER 8

Darcy and Elizabeth departed The Elms with a happy glow.  They thanked the housekeeper for her kind attentions.  “You have done your master proud with the hospitality you showed us, Mrs. Buxton.  I will be sure he knows of your excellent care when next I hear from him,” Darcy informed her as he led Elizabeth to the carriage.  

Their second day of traveling was much like the previous one. Earlier, they had stopped at an inn for their evening meal.  About an hour after leaving the inn, the carriage pulled off the main road onto a smaller one.  They drove over a bridge onto what appeared to be an island in the middle on a slow-moving river.  The carriage stopped before the small building and Darcy helped Elizabeth down.  She took in the surprising sight that met her eyes.  In the center of the island, sheltered by ancient, large trees, stood a quaint cottage.  It had a thatched roof and whitewashed walls.  The door, shutters, and window boxes were a bright, cheery green.  A multitude of rose bushes surrounded the cottage, their pink buds just beginning to appear, and bright yellow tulips filled the window boxes.  Darcy led her to the door and opened it, stepping back to allow Elizabeth to enter first.  

The interior of the cottage was clean and bright.  The walls were a soft yellow with lace curtains at the windows.  There was a stone fireplace before which sat two comfortable-looking wing-backed chairs in a blue striped fabric.  There was a large canopy bed on the wall opposite the fireplace.  The comforter on the bed had a white background with trailing vines of green decorated with little blue and yellow flowers while the same lace that covered the windows created a canopy above the bed.  The dining set, wardrobe, bookcase, desk, and remaining items were made of rosewood.  The far end of the large, open room had windows on three sides, and several easels sat with an assortment of canvases in different sizes and various stages of completion.  The picture the cottage presented both inside and out was one of charm and peace.

“However did you find this delightful place, William?  I imagine I could be happy here for the remainder of my life so long as you are with me.  What more could we need?” 

“I am pleased you find it to your liking, my love, but it is ours only for the evening.  And though I know you did not marry me for my money, please remember we do have a charming home awaiting us at the end of tomorrow’s journey.  I hope you shall be as pleased with it as you are with this place, my dear wife.”  Darcy cocked a brow at Elizabeth, and she could see how important it was to him that she like Pemberley.  

Elizabeth had been so busy looking around, she failed to realize their trunks had been brought into the room and the fire and several candles had been lit.  However, Chalmers, Margot, and the carriage had all disappeared from sight.  Elizabeth soon found herself in her husband’s embrace.  When they had to pause to recover their breath, Darcy took her hand and led her towards the bed.  He stopped as they drew near and began to kiss her again, but this time his roaming hands were creating a trail of fire everywhere he touched.  It was not long before she realized that while she was distracted with his kisses, he had begun to undress her.  She felt his hands move from her shoulders to the nape of her neck.  Then she realized he was slowly undoing the buttons down the back of her gown.  Shyly she slid her hands down his shoulders to his forearms, before hesitantly beginning to unbutton his topcoat.  They continued to slowly undress one another until there was nothing left to remove.  Then Darcy again drew his beautiful bride into his arms and began to kiss her.  As he deepened the kiss, he gently eased her down upon the bed.  Elizabeth felt the soft mattress surrounding her, and when she opened her eyes, she saw his dark eyes staring back at her.  

“Do not move,” whispered Darcy.  He straightened up and began blowing out the candles.  

Elizabeth leaned up onto her elbow to watch the enticing sight of her well-muscled, handsome husband in all his masculine glory moving about the room.  “I do not know if it is proper for me to say this or not, but you are far more perfect than any statue or painting I have ever before viewed.  I knew you were handsome, but the sight of your muscles as they move under your skin is quite intoxicating.”  Her face was red and the words no more than a whisper by the time she finished speaking.

Darcy paused to look down at his adoring wife.  “Proper or not, you are more than welcome to say such things any time you wish,” said Darcy with his dimpled smile.  “I am happy you find my body pleasing.  And though I dreamed about loving you many times, not even my most realistic dreams prepared me for the beauty that was you, my love.”  So saying he kissed her again as he lowered himself onto the bed.

Colonel Fitzwilliam was awakened by his batman shortly after dawn and given the messenger’s letter.  He moved to stand by the window and, shifting the curtain to permit more light into the room, read Mr. Bennet’s reply to his express.  He smiled to see the gentleman had invited him to meet at noon and then to join him for luncheon.  

He instructed his man to have a bath drawn for him in forty minutes before returning to the land of slumber.  After breaking his fast with his family, Richard mounted his horse and set out for Longbourn.  Fortunately, good weather accompanied him, and he was able to travel quickly.  He arrived at Longbourn’s front door five minutes before the appointed time.  Mrs. Hill welcomed him and led him to Mr. Bennet’s study.

His host directed him to a chair and offered him refreshment, which Richard refused.  As Mr. Bennet sat behind his desk, staring at him over the rim of his glasses, Richard’s well-rehearsed speech was promptly forgotten.  

After waiting several minutes for the officer to speak, a small smile began to play about the corners of Mr. Bennet’s mouth.  “I believe you requested to speak to me, Colonel Fitzwilliam.  How may I assist you?”

Thomas Bennet watched as the normally confident man’s mouth opened and closed several times without uttering a word.  Finally, he could no longer conceal his humor, and a chuckle escaped him.  

Hearing Mr. Bennet’s laughter was enough to rally the colonel’s senses.  “Mr. Bennet, I wish to ask your permission to court your daughter, Miss Mary.”

Though Mr. Bennet had suspected an attraction between the two, he was taken by surprise with the colonel’s request.  “I believed you married to the army, sir.  To what purpose do you wish to court my daughter?”

“I have recently learned of a change in my circumstances which will allow me to have a home, wife, and family.  I wish to court Miss Mary with the intention of winning her heart and making her my wife,” came the colonel’s confident reply.

“Just what is this change that will allow you to so well care for my daughter?”

“I am to be given the management and income of Rosings Park, in Kent.”

“Lady Catherine’s estate?  Why on earth would she give it over to you?  She appeared to be in good health and firm control of her estate.  What has brought about this miraculous change?”

Mr. Bennet sat back in his chair, prepared to be entertained by the colonel’s story, and he was not disappointed.  He laughed at the plans being made for Lady Catherine; at the conclusion of the colonel’s explanation, Mr. Bennet agreed to the courtship.

“In that case, sir, may I make one additional request?  I will be traveling to Kent to learn about managing the estate and will remain there through the harvest.  May Miss Bennet and I write to one another?  As soon as the harvest is through, I will return to town and assiduously court your daughter.”

Mr. Bennet eyed the young man for some time as he considered Richard’s request.  He very much liked this young man and was pleased he would no longer have to face Napoleon’s armies.  Finally, Mr. Bennet replied, “I believe it will be acceptable for you to write.  However, be forewarned you should not write anything too personal, as I shall require Mary to read all your letters to her aunt as well as all her responses to you.  Can you agree to these terms?”

“Quite happily, sir, and thank you.”

“You are very welcome, young man.  Now, I believe Mrs. Hill has luncheon ready for us.  Let us enjoy our meal before you must be back on the road to London.”

After a delicious meal, the colonel prepared to depart Longbourn with a lighter heart than when he had arrived.  As he continued along the road to London, he looked forward to visiting with Mary on the morrow.  He arrived in town in time to join his family for dinner and was delighted to deliver to them the news he had obtained Mr. Bennet’s approval.

The next morning the mood of the diners around the breakfast table at Matlock House was mixed.  Richard was eager to visit Mary and ask for permission to court her.  However, when he thought about resigning his commission, his feelings were more complicated.  Richard had served in the army since the day after completing his studies at Cambridge.  He had begun at the bottom and worked his way up, eventually earning the rank of colonel.  He was fearless in battle, and his men adored him.  Richard was also a good tactician and strategist whose cool head on the battlefield kept both him and his men as safe as possible during wartime.

The other members of the group were somewhat subdued, for they knew they would have to deal with Lady Catherine and her antics.   Georgiana was the exception, as she could not wait to move to the Gardiners to spend time with her new family.  She planned to assist Susan in learning to play the pianoforte.  She, Mary, and Kitty would have daily lessons from Mrs. Annesley and would also begin learning about how to run a household from Mrs. Gardiner.  

When the meal concluded, Lord and Lady Matlock and Anne entered the largest of the Matlock coaches to begin their journey to Kent.  Due to the early hour, Georgiana and Richard were required to wait for almost an hour before departing for the Gardiners’ home.  The servants did not know quite what to make of their behavior, as neither was able to settle for more than five minutes at a time before they were again pacing or wandering about the room.  When the clock chimed half past nine, they both jumped up and rushed to the door, nearly colliding in the doorway.

With a laugh, Richard held out his arm, saying, “May I escort you to the carriage, Georgie?”

“I should be delighted, Cousin.”

With another laugh, they were down the stairs, out the door, and entering the carriage headed for Cheapside.

The children had stationed themselves at the window to watch for the visitors.  Susan was very excited there would be another young lady in the house and looked forward to learning more from Miss Darcy.  Edmund was quite unsettled that Miss Darcy would be staying with them.  His infatuation had by no means ended, and he intended to show her how grown-up and gentlemanly he could be.  

Finally, Hugh’s voice was heard crying, “They are here!”

Kitty jumped up excitedly and moved to the window, watching as the colonel stepped down, then handed down Georgiana.  Mary set aside the handkerchief on which she was working and smoothed her dress with hands, which shook just slightly.  Mrs. Gardiner observed them all and tried to suppress her smile.  A moment later, the housekeeper announced the visitors.

“Colonel Fitzwilliam, Miss Darcy, good morning.”

“Good morning, Mrs. Gardiner.  Thank you so much for allowing me to stay with you while my family is away.”  Georgiana curtseyed to her hostess.

“We are delighted to have you, Miss Darcy.  Kitty, would you show Miss Darcy to her room?”

“Certainly, Aunt.”  Kitty took Georgiana by the hand, and with their heads close, giggling already, they left the room.

Richard shook his head as he watched his normally shy cousin hurrying away.

Turning that smile on his hostess, Richard said, “I am so pleased to see her happy.  Mrs. Gardiner, I wonder if I might have a word with Miss Bennet.  I saw her father recently and have a message for her.”

Mary looked at him with confusion, but Mrs. Gardiner gave him a knowing smile.  “Will you be able to stay for luncheon, Colonel Fitzwilliam?”

“I should like that, ma’am.”

“Well, you and Mary may have a few moments together while I inform my housekeeper about the addition to the meal.  I shall leave the door open,” Mrs. Gardiner said as she exited the room.

Richard moved to seat himself on the sofa beside Mary.  “When did you see my father?” asked Mary quietly. 

“Yesterday,” came his unexpected reply.  “Miss Mary, a surprising change in my fortunes necessitated my paying him a visit.”

“You are not being sent back to battle are you?”  The concern on her face was apparent.

“No.  In fact, I shall be resigning my commission later today.”

“Oh, thank goodness,” said Mary, her look changing to one of relief.

“You see,” Richard continued, “I have just learned I am the heir to Rosings Park.”  Mary’s look of shock made him chuckle.  “It is a long and complicated story which I will share at another time.  However, as it means I can now take on a wife and, hopefully, a family, I felt compelled to call on your father.”  Mary blushed becomingly at his words.  “I needed his permission before I could ask if you would permit me to court you.”

“And did he give his permission?” Mary asked softly.

“He did, indeed.  So, Miss Mary Bennet, will you permit me to court you for the purpose of becoming better acquainted and with the understanding that I hope someday to make you my wife?”

Mary could not believe what she was hearing.  She looked at him with tear-filled eyes.  “Are you in earnest, Colonel?  We have known each other such a short time.”

“I am completely in earnest.  You are quite a remarkable young woman, Miss Mary.  You are intelligent, kind, peaceful, and loving.  When I am near you, that peacefulness seems to fill me.  After years of war, I long for a quiet, peaceful life.  I do not believe I would find that with anyone else.”

Her face aglow, she said, “I would be happy and honored to accept your courtship.”

“There is one small hitch.” Mary’s face fell, so he rushed to continue, “But I have made special arrangements with your father so it will not delay our courtship.”

“What is the difficulty?” came Mary’s cautious voice.

“I must go immediately to Rosings after resigning my commission.  I must learn about running the estate and be there for the harvest.  I thought perhaps we could correspond while I am there, and your father has agreed.  I will also return to London as often as possible, and we can begin our courtship in earnest for the little season before the holidays, if that meets with your approval.

Mary’s relief was now apparent.  “I should like that very much.”

“Your father’s only condition was that you must read all my letters to your aunt, as well as your responses.”

“That was very kind of Papa, for one must usually be engaged before a correspondence may occur.  I look forward to getting to know you better through our correspondence.”

Mrs. Gardiner, who had overheard the last of this conversation, cleared her throat before reentering the room.  They made light conversation until the other young ladies joined them. 

As he road along to the barracks and his meeting with the general about resigning his commission, Richard kept a tight grip on the horse’s reins.  He could not quite fathom the turn his life had taken, nor could he believe his good fortune in having captured the affection of a wonderful young woman, or that he could actually marry and have a peaceful life.  For so many years he had believed he would never have the joys of a home or family of his own, but now his future would be filled with love and peace.

Colonel Fitzwilliam knocked firmly on the door to the general’s office.  He entered at his commanding officer’s call and smartly saluted.  

Without looking up from the papers he was studying, the general said, “Ah, Fitzwilliam.  I was pleased to receive your message, as there is a matter I wished to discuss with you.”

“Perhaps, General, I might be permitted to speak first.  It may have an effect on your discussion.”

Concerned at the tone of the colonel’s voice, the general directed a hard look at the officer standing before him.  “I see.  What is it you needed to speak to me about?”

“I wished to inform you I will be resigning my commission, effective immediately.  I have recently learned of an inheritance and have been asked to take it up as soon as possible.”

The general frowned.  “I see.  Is there anything I can do to convince you to delay this?  The army, no, the Crown, has great need of you.”  

“I am sorry, General, but I would not wish to jeopardize my safety when I have such an opportunity before me.  It would not be fair to my family or the young lady I am courting to place myself at risk when there is no longer a need for me to earn my support in such a way.”

“A young lady, aye?” said the general with a smile.

“Yes, sir.”

“Well, then, let me offer you my congratulations.”

“Thank you, General.”

“Perhaps you can still be of assistance, Colonel Fitzwilliam.  Do you have someone in mind who wishes to purchase your commission?  Perhaps that individual might be able to assist with the assignment I was planning for you.”

“Yes, sir.  There is a man in my outfit who has earned his way from foot soldier to the rank of sergeant, though I believe he is to receive a promotion to lieutenant after our last campaign.  He has been saving to purchase a higher rank, and he is truly worthy.  He is an excellent leader and someone I have been able to depend upon in time of need.  In fact, while he has been on leave, he has been employed by my cousin, Fitzwilliam Darcy, for private surveillance and protection work.  I recommended six men to my cousin, Travers’ assessment of the job was thorough, and the recommendations he made excellent.  They did an exceptional job, but their services are no longer needed and their leave will be up shortly.  I planned to speak with him in a couple of days when he returns to town.”

“Who is this man?” questioned the general thoughtfully.

“His name is George Travers.”

“Do you honestly believe Travers has the skill and intelligence to advance to such a rank immediately?”

“I do, General.”

“Well, then, bring him to me once he arrives in town.  If I feel he is capable of filling your shoes, I will permit you to offer him your commission and may have an assignment for him.  What of these other men who worked for your cousin?  What is your opinion of their capabilities?”  

“General, I recommended them for the purpose of guarding my cousin, his sister, and his betrothed, all of whom are very important to me.  I was trusting them with their very lives and think highly of all them.”

“I see, and were their efforts successful?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good, good.  How soon will you be in contact with Travers?”

“I believe he will return to town tomorrow or the next day.”

“I will expect to see you here in my office in three days.  Be here at ten o’clock sharp.”

“Yes, sir, General.”  With a sharp salute, Fitzwilliam turned and left the general’s office.  He mounted his horse and turned it in the direction of the nearest express office.  He dashed off a note to Travers, requesting that he meet him at Matlock House very early in the morning three days hence, then rode off quickly down the road to Kent.  Richard knew he needed to be there to support his father as they confronted Lady Catherine, but he would have to return quickly to meet with the general.

As the carriage turned into the drive at Rosings, everyone shifted uncomfortably.  During the journey, they discussed the best way to confront Lady Catherine, concluding they would make it seem as though returning Anne home was their sole purpose.  After Richard arrived, their knowledge of Lady Catherine’s misdeeds would be exposed.

When the carriage stopped before the entrance, everyone exchanged glances.  The determination they felt was evident in their looks.  Informing the butler they did not wish to be announced, they paused in the doorway to observe Lady Catherine before making their presence known.  Her expression made it immediately obvious that Lady Catherine was anxious about something, as indicated by the steady drumming of her fingers on the arm of her throne-like chair.  

“Good afternoon, Catherine,” greeted the earl.  At the unexpected sound of his voice, his sister jumped.

“Henry, what are you doing here?  Anne, I am glad you have returned home where you belong.  Why is Darcy not with you?”

“Darcy is on his wedding trip.  Where else would you expect him to be?”  Lord Matlock stared at his sister to see her reaction to this pronouncement.  He did not miss the anger on her face.

  When she spoke, the anger was also evident in her voice.  “I held out hope he would yet come to his senses and do his duty to Anne and the family.”  Her tone became more thoughtful, and the look that briefly crossed her face was speculative.  “Perhaps he is not in his right mind?  Henry, we should see that Darcy is examined by a doctor so we can ensure his sister and his estate are protected as they should be.  We would not wish for an interloper to assume control of such valuable assets should he be unbalanced.”

“There is nothing wrong with Darcy, Catherine; you need not concern yourself.”

She threw a disappointed look at her brother.  “Where is Georgiana?  She should have been brought to me for proper training before her coming out.”

“Georgiana is with some of her new family in London.  You need not concern yourself with her.   Darcy does not plan to have her presented for at least two years.”

“And I shall happily help Elizabeth and him to prepare her when the time comes,” offered Lady Matlock.

“Do not speak that harlot’s name in my presence.  She will be the ruination of our family.  Georgiana shall be fortunate to make a match at all with the dreadful connection Darcy has made.  I am sure he must be out of his mind to have accepted someone with such low connections.  I shall summon my doctor, and we shall travel to Pemberley to examine him and –”

“You will do nothing of the kind, Catherine.  He is on his honeymoon, and you are forbidden from disturbing him,” Lord Matlock interrupted his sister.  “Catherine, it has been a long day of travel, and we are tired.  We brought Anne home to Rosings and plan to visit for a day or two.  However, I do not wish to hear your malevolent thoughts about Darcy and his bride.”  

“You cannot tell me how I can or cannot speak in my own home,” raged Lady Catherine.

“Catherine,” interjected Lady Matlock, “could you please have your housekeeper prepare rooms for us and perhaps call for refreshments? It has indeed been a long day.”

Lady Catherine bristled at being given instructions about the care of guests in her home, and with little grace she finally summoned her housekeeper and issued the instructions.

Refreshments arrived shortly thereafter, and Lady Matlock deftly steered the conversation away from Darcy’s marriage each time Lady Catherine attempted to comment on the matter.  When the guests had finished their refreshments, they excused themselves to rest until dinner.  

The evening meal and after dinner conversation was a tense time that required all the skills of Lord and Lady Matlock to prevent Lady Catherine from continuing her rant about Darcy and Elizabeth.  Much earlier than they might have done, the visitors were excusing themselves to retire for the evening.  Lord and Lady Matlock had just started up Rosings’ grand staircase when a knock at the door stopped their progress.  Richard appeared tired as he crossed the threshold, but his parents had no doubt of his success with the day’s activities, for he could not quite suppress his smile.  

Without greeting his aunt, Richard joined his parents as they climbed the stairs to their rooms.  He followed them into the sitting room attached to their suite and the smile grew larger.

“Well, son, I imagine your day proved fruitful?” asked his father as he exchanged a pleased glance with his wife.  

“Indeed, it did.  I am happy to announce that Miss Mary Bennet has accepted my request for a courtship!”

“I am so pleased for you, Richard,” said his mother as she moved to embrace him.  “I must remember to thank Darcy and Elizabeth.  It seems their felicity has encouraged both of my sons to find young ladies to marry.  I can hardly wait to be a grandmother.”  Richard and the earl both laughed at the contented look on Lady Matlock’s face.

“How did things go here?” the colonel asked.

“On the ride down, we decided not to discuss the matter until you joined us.  Catherine has no idea we know of the trouble she tried to cause or that we are aware of the truth of Sir Lewis’ will.  We have spent our entire visit so far deflecting her complaints about Darcy’s marriage.  She went so far as to suggest he is not in his right mind, and that she and I should take control of Georgiana and his estate to protect them from any ‘interlopers,’” his father said with a chuckle.

“I believe we should break our fast in the morning before confronting Catherine.  I expect her to fight us at every turn, and it may be our only meal of the day,” said Lady Matlock with a shake of her head.

“Well, then, if you will excuse me, I shall retire for the night.  It was a very long ride.  Am I in my usual room?”

“Yes, Richard,” said Lady Matlock as she placed a kiss upon his cheek.  “Good night, dear.”  Lord Matlock patted him on the back and wished him pleasant dreams as Richard exited the room.

CHAPTER 9

After a blissful night in the cottage on the island, Elizabeth and Darcy began the final leg of their journey home.  They sat beside each other, Darcy’s arm about his wife’s shoulders.  Each of them held a book, but Elizabeth’s attention constantly wandered from the page to the changing scenery as the carriage continued its journey.  The hills she observed were steeper and large rock formations dotted the landscape.  Fleecy white sheep filled many of the fields.  

They stopped briefly for a midday meal, and Elizabeth’s attentions were even more distracted upon the return to the carriage.  Darcy had observed her throughout the ride, but he was not quite sure how to interpret her actions and waited patiently for her to speak.

Some time had passed before she asked her first question.  “How soon shall we arrive at Pemberley, my love?”

“We should be there in time for tea.”

“Oh, so soon?”

“I rather thought by your behavior as we traveled today you were looking forward to arriving,” said Darcy with a look of confusion on his face.

“I am looking forward to seeing my new home, but what if I cannot manage it properly?”

“My Lizzy, what would make you think such a thing?  I have never met a more intelligent and capable woman.  I expect you will be the best mistress Pemberley has ever had.”  He pulled her closer to him as he spoke, hugging her shoulders tightly.

“What if Mrs. Reynolds does not like me?  I count on her to help me learn my responsibilities as mistress.”

“Mrs. Reynolds will love you, just as Mrs. Trey does.  I am sure the Darcy House housekeeper has already told her a great deal about you.”  Elizabeth’s face paled at his suggestion.  Darcy laughed at her expression as he continued.  “Mrs. Trey has a great deal of respect for you, so you need not worry that she would have expressed any concerns to Mrs. Reynolds.  More than likely, they are both delighted that Miss Bingley never managed to trap me into marriage and become mistress of the estate.  In comparison, how could they not love you?”

Elizabeth lightly slapped his sleeve at his tease.  “However, Mrs. Trey is not the only one to have written about you to her.  Both Georgiana and I have written about you as well.  I know from the letters I received in return that she is very much looking forward to meeting you.”  At his words, Elizabeth felt her nerves slip away and excitement take their place.  She snuggled closer to her husband and continued to observe the passing scenery.

A short time later, they were traversing the cobbled streets of Lambton.  Darcy pointed out the bookshop, the dressmaker, the inn, and the church.  As they exited the town, Darcy said, “We are only five miles from Pemberley, my dear wife.  We shall be home very soon.”

Elizabeth sat up straighter and brushed the wrinkles from her skirt.  Then she reached across the carriage to the opposite seat.  Picking up her bonnet, Elizabeth replaced it upon her curls.  Then she put on her gloves and folded her hands in her lap as she observed the road, looking for landmarks along the way so she might find her way back to the village alone sometime.

As last, they turned off the main road and passed through a large wrought iron gate set into stone columns.  There was a dense wood on either side of the road that did not allow Elizabeth much view of the countryside.  “How long is the drive, William?”

“More than two miles,” was his calm reply.

Elizabeth gasped and turned to look at him, but her attention quickly returned to the road as they cleared the woods and the road began a gentle climb.  When they crested the hill, the carriage stopped and Elizabeth gasped at the sight that met her eyes as she reached out her hand to the door to steady herself.  

There, across the valley on another piece of rising ground, sat the largest home she had ever seen.  The light gray stone was the same used for the columns at the gated entrance, and it seemed to sparkle in the sunlight.  Before the house were an expansive green lawn and a lake that reflected the mansion on its smooth surface.  She caught a glimpse of gardens to the rear of the house before another wooded hill reared up behind the building.  There was another complex of gray stone buildings to the side of the estate that she assumed to be the stables.  

As the carriage began to descend the drive towards the house, Elizabeth turned her gaze to her husband.  “This is our home?”

“Yes, this is Pemberley.  What do you think?  Do you like it?”

“I cannot imagine anyone who would not like it.  And for once, Miss Bingley did not exaggerate.  It is the most beautiful estate I have ever seen.”  Darcy chuckled at her words.  “I have never seen a place where nature has done a better job or where man has not made any awkward attempts at controlling his surrounds.  Pemberley must surely be a small piece of heaven.”

By this time the carriage was slowing to stop at the front entrance.  Innumerable servants appeared to tumble out of the building.  A footman quickly had the door opened and the step in place as the remaining servants lined up along the stairs to greet their master and welcome their new mistress.  

Darcy stepped down from the carriage and smiled in the direction of the servants, a surprising sight for most of them.  Though always kind and pleasant, Mr. Darcy was known by his staff to be a reserved and quiet gentleman.  Seeing such a smile upon his face was unusual.  He extended his hand towards the carriage door, and the servants took a collective breath.  From within came a small, delicate, glove-clad hand; it was followed by a pair of small feet in kid boots peeking from beneath an aqua gown.  Next came a straw bonnet decorated with ribbons of the same color, from which dark curls peeped.  The lady’s head was downcast, but at a word from the master, her warm, melodic laugh was heard, and she turned a beautiful face and enchanting smile up to look at her husband.  They watched in further surprise as Darcy’s smile grew and his dimples appeared, causing bright smiles to appear on the faces of his servants as well.

Advancing toward the steps with Elizabeth on his arm, Darcy addressed his staff.  “It gives me great pleasure to introduce to you your new mistress, Mrs. Elizabeth Darcy.”

The housekeeper and butler exchanged looks as they watched the couple make their way up the stairs. Darcy introduced her to each of the servants lined up to greet them.  Elizabeth took the time to repeat their names in turn and ask about their positions in the household.  By the time she arrived at the top step, Mrs. Reynolds was twisting her hands together to keep herself in place.  She had been delighted to see Darcy’s smile and even more so to watch it grow as he interacted with his wife.  However, the most delightful sight was the love evident in Mrs. Darcy’s eyes.  The young master had obviously found happiness, and she could not have been more pleased for him.  He had known much sadness in his life, and she wanted so much to see that change.  She now had complete confidence in what Mrs. Trey had told her of the new mistress.

“Elizabeth, this is our butler, Benton.”

“It is a pleasure to meet you, madam,” said the stately older gentleman with dark hair showing a touch of gray at the temples and vivid green eyes.

“Now, my dear, allow me to introduce you to the present heart of our home.  Elizabeth, this is Mrs. Reynolds, our housekeeper.”

Elizabeth reached out and took the favored servant’s hands in her own as she said, “I am so pleased to meet you, Mrs. Reynolds.  I have heard such wonderful things from Mr. and Miss Darcy about you.  I hope I can depend upon you to help me learn my responsibilities as the mistress of this beautiful estate.”

“Indeed, Mrs. Darcy, I am very pleased to meet you, and all of us will be happy to help you get settled in here.  We are delighted to have a mistress again.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Reynolds.  I look forward to knowing you better and to working with you to ensure my husband and family’s comfort.”

“It is a pleasure to have you home again safe, Mr. Darcy,” said the housekeeper.  “The water for baths has been prepared, and I will have tea sent to your sitting room whenever you are ready for it.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Reynolds.  Perhaps you could have the water sent up immediately and the tea in –” he turned to Elizabeth with a raised brow.

“I believe we shall be ready for tea in an hour,” his wife responded

Turning back to the housekeeper, Darcy provided her with the information she sought.  “As Mrs. Darcy said, serve the tea in an hour.”  Elizabeth’s hand was still on his arm as he led her into the hall.  Elizabeth stopped, looking about her in awe.  Darcy helped her remove her spencer, then Elizabeth handed her gloves and bonnet to a waiting servant. 

The remaining servants had followed the couple into the house to return to their responsibilities, but not without one last look at the new mistress before they quietly disappeared.  

The hall was an expansive space with marble floors and dominated by a massive staircase.  The rich mahogany was intricately carved with graceful spindles and a delicately curved rail that led upward.  They mounted the stairs, at the top of which was a huge window that overlooked the terrace and formal gardens.   They stopped for only a brief look before Darcy turned and led her up an additional flight of stairs.  They turned to the right at the top of the stairs, and Darcy escorted her to the door at the end of the hallway.  

Opening the door, they stepped into the sitting room that connected the bedchambers of the master suite.  The wall opposite the door had a massive fireplace in the center, on either side of which was a set of French doors that opened onto a private terrace.  Through the door, Elizabeth glimpsed furnishings and several containers of flowers.  

Turning her attention to the room itself, she saw a large sofa before the fireplace that was flanked by a pair of comfy, oversized chairs.  A table sat before the sofa on which was a large decorative box, a vase of spring flowers, and several books.  Decorated in shades from deep hunter to the palest of greens, the room relayed a feeling of relaxation beneath the shade of a tree.  In one corner was a dining table for two and a small sideboard.  The other corner had a desk flanked by bookcases.

Elizabeth noted a door set into the center of each of the sidewalls of the room.  “Where do the doors lead?”

Darcy directed her to the door on the right.  Opening it, he waved her through with a bow and said, “This door leads to your bedchamber, my love.  I hope you like the décor I chose for you.  The furniture is the same my mother used, but I had everything else done especially for you.”  

Elizabeth looked around the room.  Several large windows let in the bright sunshine.  The lower portion of the walls was painted in a soft shade of lavender, separated by moulding that ran around the room. The top half of the walls were covered with a cream striped paper painted with green vines and clusters of small purple flowers climbing from the moulding to the ceiling.  A large poster bed dominated one wall.  The bedding and hangings were in shades of lavender, green, and cream, matching the hangings at the windows.  In one corner, a deep purple chaise rested with a small table beside it.  Before the fireplace sat a small sofa covered in a print that matched the wall covering.  There was also a pair of chairs in a soft green fabric, while an escritoire stood near one of the windows.  Several vases of white roses and lavender filled the room, giving off a heavenly fragrance.  

William pulled Elizabeth through a door at the far end of the room that led to her dressing room.  At one end was a tiled floor where sat a small stove and a large copper bathtub.  Surprisingly, there was also a chair that seemed to be fit with a chamber pot.  Elizabeth looked at her husband, her eyebrow raised in question, but did not ask him about the item.  The other end of the room was taken up with racks for her clothes, as well as built-in drawers and shelves.  There was a full-length mirror and a small wall mirror above the dressing table.  Next to the dressing table was a large locked cabinet.  There was another vase of flowers on the dressing table.  It appeared Margot had unpacked all her many trunks, and a moment later she stepped through a hidden door, followed by other servants carrying the water for her bath.  Darcy and Elizabeth moved back into her bedroom to allow the servants room to complete their task.  

“You chose all this for me?”

“I believed I knew you well enough to choose something you would like.  Was I successful?”

“Indeed, William, it is the loveliest room I have ever seen.  Thank you, my sweet husband,” said Elizabeth as she rose up on her toes to bestow a quick kiss upon her husband’s lips.  Darcy wrapped her in his arms and was about to deepen the kiss when he heard the clearing of a throat behind him.  Darcy quickly dropped his hands.

“Excuse me, Mrs. Darcy, but your bath is ready,” came Margot’s softly accented voice. 

Elizabeth leaned around Darcy’s broad form, saying, “I shall be right there, Margot.”

“Yes, madam.”  She stepped into the dressing room, closing the door behind her.

Darcy quickly gathered her back into his embrace and kissed her thoroughly.  When he at last let go, her cheeks were flushed, and she was a bit wobbly.  Darcy turned her towards her dressing room door, and, with a pat on her derriere, said, “I shall see you in our sitting room in an hour, my lovely wife,” before striding from the room.

Elizabeth enjoyed a soak in her bath before being dressed in a pale yellow day gown.  Margot arranged her hair with yellow ribbons entwined through the curls.  As Elizabeth entered their shared sitting room, a servant was entering with the tea tray.  As she took a seat on the sofa next to Darcy, he dismissed the girl with a thank you.

Elizabeth leaned forward to prepare the tea and pour for the two of them.  She fixed his cup the way he liked before handing it to him.  Without asking, she placed his favorite biscuits and fresh fruit on a plate before handing that to him as well.  She then made a plate for herself before preparing her teacup.

They sat quietly for a few moments, enjoying their tea.  Elizabeth was the one to break the silence.  “What I have seen so far of the house is magnificent, William.  Will we tour more of it today?”

“I thought we would save that for tomorrow when we would have more time and the daylight.  Perhaps you would be content with a walk in the gardens after we finish our tea?”

“That would be lovely after a long day in the carriage,” Elizabeth replied with a smile.  

So it was that a short time later he was leading her back down the main staircase and then down a hallway that led to a door onto the rear terrace.  As she looked about, she could see several pieces of wrought iron furniture with plump cushions grouped for conversation.  There was also a table surrounded by chairs that could easily seat twelve people.  They crossed the terrace and continued down a broad set of steps onto the gravel path.  On each side were flowerbeds bordered by low boxwoods, perfectly trimmed.  In the center of these beds were various topiaries or statues surround by brightly blooming flowers.  At the heart of the formal gardens was an octagonal fountain from which paths branched off in four directions.  The happy couple made their way down the one to the right and then the left of the fountain.  As they returned to the fountain, Elizabeth made to head down the last path, which took them farther from the house, but Darcy instead they turn back towards the terrace.  

“Shall we not explore the last one, my love?” Elizabeth questioned.

“No, we must save that for another time, for at the end of that path are the steps that lead to the informal gardens.  Knowing your love of nature, we shall need more time to explore in that direction.  Instead, I shall show you my mother’s private garden.”  He led her back to the terrace and, this time, they descended steps on the right end.  From there they followed a flagstone walkway leading to a stone wall about ten feet high and nearly thirty-five feet on all sides.  A stone arch in the center of one wall contained a wooden door.  After retrieving the key from his coat pocket and unlocking the door, he pushed it open as he watched his wife’s face.  

Elizabeth gasped at the sight that met her eyes; within the walled garden was a riot of color.  Flowers of every kind imaginable and some she had never seen filled the space.  A huge tree sat in the center of the garden with a bench built around its thick trunk with soft green grass carpeting the ground.  From a thick branch that reached almost to the back wall of the garden, a swing was suspended.  There was not the order here that the formal gardens had, but much careful thought had been used when the plantings were designed.  There were plants that bloomed in every season arranged by height, those tallest being against the wall.  Turning in a circle, she noted that the wall with the door had climbing roses covering it.

Finally, Elizabeth stopped turning about and stared at her husband.  “This is the most beautiful garden I have ever seen.  No wonder it was your mother’s favorite.  I cannot imagine wishing to leave it.”

“In spite of its splendor, I would certainly hope I could entice my beautiful new bride away from here,” said Darcy with a laugh.

Blushing, she moved to his side.  “Perhaps I should amend that to say, ‘I should never wish to leave if you were here with me.’”  She smiled provocatively at Darcy.  He needed no further encouragement and swept her up into a passionate embrace.  Never breaking the kiss, he lifted her from the ground, carried her to the bench, and sat down with her in his lap.  As the kiss intensified, he gently laid her back upon the bench, covering her with his body.  Unfortunately, the curve of the bench made it impossible for his long form to fit and he rolled onto the grass with Elizabeth still clutched in his embrace.  Hitting the ground with a thump broke the kiss, and Elizabeth’s glorious laugh filled the air.  

“Perhaps, husband, we should bring a blanket for the grass with us next time we visit here.”

In spite of his undignified position, Darcy could not help but join in her laughter as he heartily agreed with her.  Elizabeth put her hand on the bench to aid her in rising to her feet before she offered her hand to her husband.  Once on his feet, he kissed her gently before offering her his arm to lead her back to the house.  

They returned with just enough time to change for dinner and then ate dinner in the family dining room.  Darcy seated Elizabeth to his right and dismissed the servants after their meal arrived.  They laughed and talked as they enjoyed their dinner.  They moved to the music room briefly before retiring.  As they reached their sitting room, Darcy said, “Would you care to join me in our sitting room when you have changed, my love?”

“That would be delightful, William,” she replied as she turned towards her bedchamber.  When she reappeared, she was wearing the gown she had worn on their wedding night, and, again, Darcy could not tear his gaze away from the stunningly beautiful sight.  Smiling at his reaction, Elizabeth moved to the sofa and held her hand out to him to join her.  When he sat down, she curled into his side.  

“My love, I know we have not yet discussed this, but I was wondering if you would consent to share a bed with me every night?”

“There is nowhere else I would rather be, but whose bed shall we share?  Shall you show me your chamber and then allow me to choose?”  He could not help but smile at her teasing expression.

“I should be pleased to show you my chamber and hope you will consider staying there with me every night for the rest of our lives.”  Darcy pulled her up from the sofa and led her to the door opposite her bedchamber.  Opening the door, she could see the room was laid out much as hers was.  By the light of the candles, the furniture appeared to be made of mahogany, and the furnishings were in shades of dark green and gold.  Elizabeth wandered about the room, her fingers brushing across the surfaces as she went.  On a table before the sofa sat a crystal decanter and two glasses.  There was a bookcase where her escritoire stood, and she glanced at the titles.  As she moved to the table beside the bed, she saw two books.  Picking them up, she noticed one was a book of poetry and the other an account of the Battle of Trafalgar.

Darcy had stared intently at her as she moved about the room.  He had long dreamed of her being here with him, and he could hardly comprehend that it was finally a reality.  Walking around the bed to the right side, she slipped her robe off her shoulders and placed it on the end of the bed.  Looking at him with passion in her eyes, Elizabeth spoke softly.  “The room is much like its owner, and I feel at home here, just like I do in your arms.”

That was all it took.  Darcy stripped off his robe, exposing his muscular form to Elizabeth as he lifted her into his arms and placed her in the center of his big bed.  He quickly settled himself beside her, and gathering her close, began to kiss her as he again shared more of the joys of the marriage bed with his beautiful bride.

TUESDAY’S TALE — 5/31/22

I’m sorry for the delay in posting the the final book in our trilogy. I was traveling across the country and and helping my daughter and her husband to move from college back to Texas. I am delighted to have one of my girls back in the house with me. Being an empty nester is not all it’s cracked up to be in my opinion.

Anyway, here is the introduction, prologue and first chapter of The Laughter of Love.

Her laughter will be mine forever as we start our life together!  Its joy will fill our home and the lives of all those who come within her sphere of influence.  Blessed are those who may enjoy her laughter and her loving care.

PROLOGUE

Her time in London was coming to a close.  The next day, Elizabeth Bennet would be returning to her childhood home, Longbourn, in preparation for her wedding. 

Elizabeth could never have imagined some of the things that occurred during her brief sojourn in town.  Pleased with her reception by the Fitzwilliam family, Elizabeth grew to love them dearly.  She happily made several new acquaintances, including neighbors from Derbyshire, and believed many of the friendships developed would last throughout her lifetime.

Many trials faced her, as well, during this time.  There were several people, among them Darcy’s aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, who did not find Elizabeth socially suitable to be the next Mrs. Darcy.  However, neither she nor Darcy was bothered by this.  Among those who did not find her worthy were a tremendous number of young ladies whose hopes of attaining Darcy for themselves Elizabeth had dashed.  Two of the disappointed, Lady Marjorie, the daughter of an impoverished earl, and Miss Caroline Bingley, whose behavior bordered on vicious, caused near disastrous consequences for Darcy and Elizabeth.  They attempted to arrange for their perceived rival to be compromised.  The gentleman they solicited to assist them developed a greatrespect for Elizabeth, precisely because she was unlike most of the ladies of his acquaintance.  Lord Wescott reported the information to Darcy and helped expose the ladies and their misdeeds.  

What would happen to Lady Marjorie when word of her father’s financial reverses and her despicable actions were made known to the ton was yet to be seen.  Elizabeth hoped to never again encounter the lady, but she knew someone as angry and resentful as she might cause problems in the future.  

As for Caroline Bingley, she had abused Elizabeth and her family from the very beginning of their acquaintance.  While residing at Netherfield Park in Hertfordshire, she made several attempts to cause Elizabeth harm, hoping to keep her from Darcy, but her plans met with failure and eventual discovery.  Consequently, her brother banished her from his leased estate.  When she learned of Elizabeth’s coming to town, Caroline tried to spread rumors of her unsuitability.  This, too, had failed when a former friend, Evelyn Pottsfield, made Caroline’s words look like nothing more than sour grapes over losing her chance to gain Mr. Darcy’s attentions.  Caroline had used Evelyn to attend the Netherfield Ball after being banished by her brother.  At the ball, Evelyn had met Elizabeth and Jane and thought highly of both.  Banished to Yorkshire for her part in the attempt to ruin Elizabeth, Caroline now resided with a strict maiden aunt.  Elizabeth hoped her sister Jane, who was betrothed to Mr. Charles Bingley, Caroline’s only brother, would be spared any further ill-will from Miss Bingley.

However, the greatest danger Darcy and Elizabeth faced came from George Wickham.  Wickham held a grudge against Darcy, caused by his false sense of entitlement.  As the son of old Mr. Darcy’s steward, he believed himself to be the favorite of Darcy’s father and mistakenly expected Mr. Darcy’s will to provide him with a life of ease for the remainder of his days.  However, Wickham’s delusion left him extremely disappointed when he learned his bequest was a mere one thousand pounds and the future possibility of a church living.  Wickham refused the position in the church and requested money instead but frittered away the several thousand pounds in a matter of months.  Hoping to gain what he felt was owed him, Wickham attempted to kidnap Darcy’s younger sister, Georgiana, three times.  Fortunately, each escapade ended in failure. Elizabeth’s involvement in two of the failed endeavors caused his hatred to extend to her.  Wickham managed to shoot Elizabeth as she intervened during the last undertaking.  

While the Darcys and Elizabeth spent the winter in London, Wickham tried to run Darcy, Elizabeth, and Georgiana down with a carriage and made an attempt to take Georgiana from Hyde Park before taking a shot at Darcy in disappointed frustration.  At the conclusion of the ball celebrating the engagement of Darcy and Elizabeth, Wickham successfully spirited away Darcy’s carriage with Elizabeth and her sister, Mary, inside.  The young ladies had been quickly rescued after suffering only minor injuries, and Wickham, fortunately, suffered a fatal gunshot during the rescue.

Despite all this, Elizabeth dreaded most what she might face upon her return home.  Fanny Bennet, Elizabeth’s mother, never cared for her second daughter.  In an atrocious letter to Elizabeth, Mrs. Bennet harshly denounced her least-favorite daughter with numerous unfounded and hurtful remarks.  The unfeeling woman went so far as to refuse to prepare the simple, elegant wedding and wedding breakfast Elizabeth and her betrothed requested.  Mr. Bennet offered his wife an ultimatum:  to plan the events as requested or to be excluded from the wedding, which now included Jane Bennet and Charles Bingley in a double ceremony.  

Mrs. Bennet pretended compliance, but it was discovered two weeks before the wedding that no arrangements had been made.  Elizabeth’s aunt, Mrs. Gardiner, and Darcy’s aunt, Lady Matlock, left a few days later to travel to Hertfordshire and take care of all the necessary arrangements.  In spite of her confidence in the two ladies, Elizabeth was very worried over what she would find when they arrived at Longbourn, and she particularly dreaded facing her mother.

With all these memories and worries swirling in her head, Elizabeth eventually drifted into a restless slumber.

CHAPTER 1

As the carriage containing Elizabeth, Mary, Georgiana, and Mrs. Annesley approached Longbourn, Darcy could see Elizabeth’s tension increase with each passing mile.  He and his cousin, Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam, were riding along the side of the carriage nearest to where his betrothed sat.  Darcy leaned close to the window and said, “Elizabeth, my love, you must stop worrying, or you will give yourself a headache.  You will not have to see your mother. You must put that concern from your mind and think of other things.  I know you are eager to see your father, and you have expressed your curiosity to see the changes in Kitty.  You will also be able to see Miss Lucas again, not to mention being reunited with Jane and our aunts.”  

Elizabeth took a deep breath and rolled her shoulders, trying to release the stiffness she felt.  She looked at William and said, “Thank you, kind sir.  How is it you always know what to say to make me feel better?  You are correct.  With our aunts in charge, everything will be perfect.  It will also be wonderful to see my father and the others again.  Unfortunately, I cannot dispel the feeling of impending trouble.”  The concern in her expression worried Darcy.  He silently cursed Mrs. Bennet for distressing his beloved Elizabeth at what should be one of the happiest times of her life.

“We have only six days until the wedding; I am sure we can manage to enjoy six pleasant, calm days without some catastrophe befalling us.”  Darcy gave her a beguiling smile.  “After all, we thwarted Lady Marjorie and Miss Bingley, Wickham will never harm anyone again, and your mother is on the far side of the estate where you will not see her, unless by choice,” he said with confidence.  “We have certainly earned a little peace, have we not?” asked Darcy with a smile.

The carriage turned into Longbourn’s drive only to encounter another vehicle already there.  As it came to a stop, Darcy and the Colonel dismounted, tossing the reins to a groom who appeared.   Colonel Fitzwilliam stepped up to the carriage and handed down Miss Mary, offering her his arm to escort her inside.  Darcy then assisted Miss Darcy and Mrs. Annesley before reaching in to lift Elizabeth from the carriage.  Before the group reached the entrance, the door opened and out spilled a large crowd of people, all talking at once.  Mr. Bennet stood in the entry, his usual amused grin on his face, before calling everyone to attention and inviting the newcomers into the house.  

Once everyone was settled in the parlor, Mr. Bennet officially welcomed his daughters and visitors before demanding to know the state of Elizabeth’s and Mary’s health.  “I look forward to conversing with you about your most recent adventure,” he said, “and must admit to relief that those who were plaguing you in London have been effectively handled.”

The conversation then turned to the plans for the wedding—what had been done and what still needed attention.  “Has everything proceeded smoothly?” asked Elizabeth, nervousness in her voice.

“Do not worry, Lizzy; all will be well,” said Jane.

“It certainly will, Elizabeth,” confirmed Mrs. Gardiner.  “We have been making excellent progress with your wishes for the wedding.  Rebecca and I have searched the shops in Meryton, getting the majority of the things we need for the wedding celebration.”  

“Yes,” continued Lady Matlock, “and we have a delivery coming from London on the day before the wedding that will bring all the things we were not able to acquire.  So, there is absolutely nothing for you to worry about or even do.”  

“There is one thing you need to do,” said Mr. Bennet, “Reverend Winthrop wishes the four of you to stop by the church to talk with him at your earliest convenience.”

Darcy looked at Bingley and the ladies, saying, “Shall we take my carriage into Meryton tomorrow to visit with Reverend Winthrop?”

“It is fine with me,” said Elizabeth.  

“I believe that would be acceptable,” said Bingley after receiving a nod from Jane.  

Mrs. Hill entered the door carrying the tea service, followed by a maid with more refreshments.  The group settled in to enjoy the refreshments and visit.  Eventually, it came time for the Netherfield party to depart to prepare for dinner, for they would be returning to dine at Longbourn that evening.  Before doing so, Darcy carried Elizabeth to her room to rest until their return. “I will be back to bring you downstairs before dinner,” he said as he deposited her on the bed and dropped a kiss on her forehead.  “Will you please wait for me and allow me to return you to the party?”

“I will behave,” she said, “but only because I long to be healed enough to take one last walk with you to Oakham Mount before leaving the area for my new home.  I also wish to be well enough to explore all the wonders I have been told can be found at Pemberley.”  The happy, expectant expression on her face as she thought of Pemberley warmed Darcy’s heart.

“And I cannot wait to show you all the glories of your future home,” said Darcy with a smile as he turned and left the room.

Before Elizabeth had time to fall asleep, Jane knocked but did not wait for an answer before slipping into the room.

“How are you feeling, Lizzy?” her sister asked.

“I feel perfectly well but am abiding by the doctor’s orders to stay off my ankle for one more day.  Then I will be back to my morning walks so I can visit all my favorite places before the wedding.  I wish to say a proper goodbye to my home before embarking on the next phase of my life.”

Jane could not but laugh at her sister’s answer.  “Well, then, I will be sure no one looks for your help with anything before ten in the morning so you may take your walks.  Of course, your aunts seem to have everything well in hand and will not allow me to do anything.”

“If they will not let you do any work, what have you been doing with your time for the past few days?” asked Elizabeth.

“First, we met with Mrs. Hill and reviewed the menu and all the dishes, tableware, and linens we would need.  Then, I took Aunt Madeline and Lady Rebecca into Meryton and introduced them to Mr. Wilkens in the general store and Mr. Johnson at the butcher shop so orders could be placed.  Mr. Bingley has offered the use of his staff.  There are several maids who are helping clean the house in preparation for the wedding breakfast and several footmen who will assist during the event.”

Finally, Elizabeth asked the question she was most interested in and most fearful of having answered.  “Have you seen Mama?”

“Seeing Mama caused ambivalent feelings in me, but Lydia said Mama had specifically asked that I visit after I returned from London.”

“How was your visit?” asked Elizabeth tentatively.

“It started off well, with Mama offering her congratulations and saying how she knew it would be this way when Mr. Bingley came to the neighborhood.  She asked about the clothes I had purchased and the events I attended,” said Jane placidly.

“What are you not telling me, Jane?  You indicated she asked about your clothes and your activities.  Did she not ask after me at all?”  Elizabeth’s eyes shimmered as she spoke.

“She did mention you, Lizzy, but that was when I decided it was time to leave, and I will not waste my time repeating the ridiculous things she said, so do not ask,” said Jane with unusual firmness.

Elizabeth’s eyes began to well with tears, but she dashed them away with the back of her hands.  “If you would not mind, Jane, I would like to rest.  Will you please let Margot know to wake me an hour before dinner so I may prepare?”

 “Certainly, Lizzy.  I will have her bring up a cup of tea when she comes to assist you,” said Jane as she exited the room, closing the door behind her.

As Elizabeth lay down to sleep, she did her best to think only of the pleasure she would experience with her family and friends for the next few days and of the joy she would have in sharing her future life with William.  Unfortunately, she could not put aside the feeling that all their troubles were not yet behind them.

When Margot arrived with her tea, Elizabeth was surprised to find she had actually enjoyed a restful nap.  Elizabeth donned the yellow gown she had received from the Gardiners at Christmas for this first night’s dinner.  She was excited to be home again, back in her comfortable room, and looked forward to seeing some of her friends and neighbors in the days before the wedding.

Jane opened the door to Elizabeth’s room and popped in her head to announce she was going downstairs and would send Mr. Darcy up when he arrived.  With the door open, Elizabeth could hear Lydia’s whining voice complaining about wanting a maid of her own, like Jane and she had.  She heard Mary calmly explaining that the servants were paid for by their fiancés and not Papa, so she should stop her fussing. “Besides,” said Mary, “you always hogged the maid we shared, so you have practically had your own maid for years.”  They heard Lydia’s “humph” and the sound of her steps as she flounced down the hallway to the stairs.  Jane rolled her eyes at Elizabeth and followed Lydia as Mary appeared in the doorway.

“I see you were right about Lydia,” said Elizabeth with a look of commiseration at Mary.  “Try not to let it bother you.  Just keep reminding yourself that she will be leaving for school shortly, and you shall come to visit us.”

“Lydia is going to school?” asked Kitty in surprise as she appeared in Elizabeth’s doorway.  “I have not heard a word about such a plan, so perhaps you should not say anything.  I do not think Papa has told her yet.  I am sure he did not wish her complaints to begin before the wedding and probably does not plan to say anything until after everyone has departed,” said Kitty wisely.

“You are most likely correct, Kitty.”

“Does Papa plan to have Mama return to the house when everyone is gone?” Mary wondered.

“I do not know if he has decided that yet,” came Kitty’s reply.  “They had the worst disagreement I had ever heard when he asked her about preparing for the wedding.  Then when he told her it was to be a double wedding, Mama became even angrier.  When she still refused to do the things Lizzy had asked for, Papa banished her to the dower house.  She tried to say she was much too ill to be moved, but Papa had the maid pack her trunks.  Then Mr. Hill retrieved them and loaded them onto the small wagon to deliver them to the dower house.  He asked Mama if she would like to dress before joining Mr. Hill in the wagon for her move.  When Mama refused to leave, Papa threw her over his shoulder in her gown and dressing robe, carried her down the stairs, and dropped her onto the back of the wagon with her trunks.  He told her if she did not improve her behavior, he would not even allow her a maid to care for her.”

“When she first moved there, I would try to visit every day, but because she only complains and speaks unkindly about everyone but Lydia, I finally stopped going.”

“Does Lydia visit her regularly?”  

“Yes, she goes daily, and she constantly complains about not having Mama here with her and how unfair it is that Papa sent her away,” concluded Kitty.

“How has Lydia’s behavior been when Lady Matlock is present?” asked Elizabeth, worry lines on her forehead.

“At first, Lydia tried to impress Lady Matlock, bragging about how popular she was with the members of the militia and what a brilliant match she would make if only she had the opportunity to go to London for the season.  Lady Matlock looked her up and down, only saying she was much too young to be out in polite society and, based on her behavior, she doubted Lydia would be ready for several years.  Lydia has done nothing since then but whine and complain about the attention everyone else is getting, how unfair it all is, and that everyone is being mean to her,” finished Kitty.  “I have grown tired of listening to her and have been spending my time sketching, visiting with Maria Lucas, or learning from Mrs. Hill.”

“I am very proud of you, Kitty, for being so responsible and mature.  Mary has also told me how talented you are.  Perhaps you would be kind enough to show me some of your drawings,” said Elizabeth encouragingly.

“Would you really like to see them?”  Kitty’s question showed both trepidation and excitement.

“I would, and I am sure Miss Darcy would also enjoy viewing them since she loves to draw as well.”

The sisters’ conversation was interrupted when Mrs. Gardiner appeared in the doorway.  Smiling, she said, “I believe we should head downstairs, Mary and Kitty, as the guests should be arriving very soon.  Lizzy, would you like me to send your father up to assist you down the stairs?”

Dinner that evening was a cheerful affair.  The children had been invited to the table so they could welcome back Elizabeth and the others.  Edmund was delighted to be seated beside Miss Darcy, while Susan and Hugh were seated next to Darcy and Elizabeth, respectively.  Kitty and Mary were seated on either side of Colonel Fitzwilliam, who spoke pleasantly to both girls throughout the meal as Lydia cast angry glances their way.  Mrs. Gardiner had wisely seated Lydia between her and her husband to minimize Lydia’s disruptive effect on the other diners.

There was a short separation of the sexes after the meal, and Lydia peppered Mary and Kitty with questions about the colonel and his personality.  They gave her brief responses, and she soon flounced away.  Lydia moved to a chair near the entrance of the room where she would be the first to see the gentlemen when they returned.

In the library, Darcy was inquiring as to Mrs. Bennet’s status.  Mr. Bennet explained what he had said upon his return home and reported the necessity of removing her from the house, including the manner in which she had been removed.

“Do you believe we need to have the house guarded during the days leading up to the wedding?” Darcy asked with concern.

“It is quite a walk from the dower house into Meryton, and Mrs. Bennet does not like to expend herself in such activities.  Unless you and Elizabeth make a trip to see her, I do not believe you will encounter her during your visit,” Mr. Bennet responded.

When the gentlemen rejoined the ladies a short time later, Lydia latched onto the colonel’s arm the minute he walked into the parlor.  He made every attempt to disengage her from his arm as he moved across the room in Mary’s direction.  Seeing where Colonel Fitzwilliam was heading, Lydia gave his arm a tug and said, “Sit with me, Colonel.  I am much more fun than Mary and promise not to recite any scriptures to you while we talk.” Lydia cast a smirk in Mary’s direction as she spoke.  Richard noted the embarrassed blush that spread over Mary’s cheeks and once again attempted to remove his arm from Lydia’s grasp.  

Mrs. Gardiner spoke up, saying, “Lydia, I believe it is time for you and the children to retire.  Please take them up to the nursery and help the nurse prepare them for bed.  I will be up shortly to kiss them good night. Please be sure you read them a story or two while they are waiting for me.”

“But, Aunt,” Lydia began to whine.  She was unable to say more before the firm voice of her father said, “It is time for you to depart now, Lydia.”

Lydia flounced from the room without waiting for the children. She was soon heard stomping up the stairs.  Kitty quickly offered to help the children prepare for bed. She waited patiently as they offered their goodnights to everyone before quietly exited the room.

Before the Netherfield party departed for the evening, Darcy said he had sent a note to Reverend Winthrop upon arriving at Netherfield, asking if it would be convenient for him to receive the two couples at half past ten in the morning. Reverend Winthrop had replied in the affirmative.  He advised the ladies that Bingley and he would arrive by ten in the morning to pick them up for their appointment with the minister.

As Jane walked out to the waiting carriage with Bingley and the others, Darcy carried Elizabeth upstairs to her room.

“I am sad to see this day end.”

“Why would that be, William?  You are usually counting the days until the wedding each night before we must separate.”

“Yes, that is true, but after this evening, there is no longer an excuse for me to carry you in my arms,” Darcy said somewhat forlornly.

“Yes, but it is only a few more days until you can carry me whenever you wish, and I find there is no place I would rather be than in your arms,” said Elizabeth with a bashful smile.

Darcy leaned in and kissed Elizabeth’s forehead quickly before removing himself from the temptation she presented.  “Until tomorrow,” he said with a longing look from the doorway.  “Good night, my Elizabeth.  Sweet dreams.”

Sitting alone at Rosings, Lady Catherine wondered how all her plans had gone awry.  She looked back over her life, trying to determine what she could have done differently to achieve her desires.  After many unsuccessful seasons, Lady Catherine Fitzwilliam had been forced to accept the hand of Sir Lewis de Bourgh.  He was fifteen years Lady Catherine’s senior, and she did not find him handsome.  The gentleman had readily enjoyed the freedom of being wealthy and well-connected but had finally reached the point where he wished for more in his life.  Lady Catherine was a handsome woman with a good pedigree.  A connection to the Earl of Matlock could only improve his social standing.  Sir Lewis had found Lady Catherine intriguing.  He saw the disappointment and confusion she felt at having received no offers and hoped to eventually break down her defenses.  

He felt he was making some progress until the announcement of the engagement between Catherine’s younger sister, Anne, and James Darcy.  It was a love match, and Catherine was green with envy.  She had admired Mr. Darcy, but he never noticed her at all.  In her jealousy and anger, Catherine had tried on more than one occasion to disrupt the relationship, but her brother had always interceded and asserted his authority as head of the Fitzwilliam family.  When the marriage finally took place, Catherine hardened her heart further, and, in spite of Sir Lewis’ many kindnesses, Lady Catherine could not bring herself to be accepting of the man she had felt forced to marry.  

When nothing he tried could improve his relationship with Lady Catherine, Sir Lewis focused all his love and attention upon his children.  Their first child, a son, was born in the late summer and died a few months later after catching a winter cold.  Next Lady Catherine experienced two miscarriages.  Two years after her sister, Lady Anne, gave birth to a healthy son, Fitzwilliam Darcy, Lady Catherine again gave birth, this time to a daughter, Anne.  When Anne was two, Lady Catherine was again with child.  This time, she gave birth to a healthy son.  When the boy was three, he was playing in Rosings’ formal gardens while his mother walked the paths.  Lady Catherine was not giving the child the proper attention, and the young boy managed to climb up onto one of the fountains.  He fell into the water, hit his head, and drowned.  

Sir Lewis had been furious with Lady Catherine and forbade her from being alone with their remaining child.  He assumed all the responsibility for hiring and instructing the staff to watch his only living offspring.  He made sure Anne had a loving nurse and a governess who would remain her companion as she grew older.  When Anne was eight, she was stricken with scarlet fever.  She eventually recovered, but the high temperatures had affected her heart and left it weakened.  When Anne recovered, Sir Lewis doted on her even more.  Anne was well loved, and she adored her father in return.  Her mother mostly ignored her unless it was to harshly correct her behavior.  Anne was fourteen when Sir Lewis died, and she was heartbroken, becoming ill for some weeks following her father’s death.  

At the reading of the will, Lady Catherine received a severe shock to her senses.  Sir Lewis had left everything to Anne.  At the time of Anne’s marriage or at age five and twenty, when she reached her majority, Lady Catherine would be relegated to the dower house with an income of one thousand pounds per annum.  If Anne died before either of these events occurred, the estate would pass to Richard Fitzwilliam.  There were no de Bourghs remaining to inherit, and Sir Lewis had been fond of the happy and hard-working young nephew who was attending Cambridge and was preparing for a career in the army.  His other nephews would both inherit estates, and Sir Lewis wanted to afford Richard the same opportunity to have a secure future.

It was shortly after Sir Lewis’s death that James Darcy began making annual visits to Rosings at Easter, bringing his son with him.  Catherine thought since they were both alone now, Anne Darcy having died four years previously, she would be able to convince James to marry her.  She was unaware of the fact that Mr. Darcy came only as a result of being one of the executor’s of Sir Lewis’s estate.  The earl also made a trip to Rosings each year at the completion of the harvest for the same purpose.

Now Darcy was to marry, and it was not to her daughter.  All the years that Darcy had visited Rosings, Lady Catherine had told him of the plans she and his mother had made when Anne was still in her cradle.  She told him of their desire for their children to wed and join the two estates.  Lady Anne had never agreed to this plan, no matter how many times her sister brought up the subject.  However, Lady Catherine was determined to catch Darcy for her daughter since she had not been able to capture his father for herself.  Consequently, she drummed into Darcy her tale of the union being his mother’s greatest wish.  

Lady Catherine’s most recent attempt to end the relationship had been a misguided effort to disrupt the engagement ball for her nephew, Fitzwilliam Darcy, and the country upstart, Elizabeth Bennet, to whom he had engaged himself.  She had been infuriated that her own daughter had thwarted her this time.  After her latest mischief, Lady Catherine had been forcefully ordered to return to Rosings by her brother, the Earl of Matlock.  He gave her strict orders to desist in her attempts to disrupt Darcy’s engagement.  The Earl went so far as to threaten his recalcitrant sister with dire consequences should she ignore him.  

Lady Catherine knew the only way she would retain her place as the mistress of Rosings was for her daughter, Anne, to marry Darcy.  Then Anne would remove to Pemberley and leave Lady Catherine in charge of the estate in Kent.  With that in mind, she summoned her parson, Mr. Collins.  Collins was not too bright, but he was devoted to his patroness and only too happy to carry out her orders, no matter what they were.  She whispered her plans to him and sent him on his way.

Mr. Collins looked around his accommodations.  The Meryton Inn was small and noisy.  He had registered under the name of Mr. Smith because his patroness, Lady Catherine, insisted that no one know of his presence in the neighborhood.  She had given Mr. Collins explicit instructions and ordered him not to fail her.  Because he had not ventured into the village on his previous visit to Meryton, none of the villagers had ever seen him.  With his generally unappealing appearance and odoriferousness, very few of the villagers paid much attention to the newcomer.  

Lady Catherine had timed his arrival in Meryton for the same day as Elizabeth was due to return to Longbourn.  As he lay in bed that night, he thought back to his visit last autumn.  He had been ordered by his patroness to marry and to select a bride from among his cousins.  He initially chose Jane, who was the eldest and most beautiful.  However, Mrs. Bennet had hinted that she expected Jane to be soon engaged and pushed Mr. Collins to choose Elizabeth.  He had noted her beauty and her more voluptuous figure and quickly agreed. Collins had lurked around Longbourn in hopes of catching his intended alone.  He had every intention of making her his proposal and stealing a kiss, more if he could.  Elizabeth had avoided him as much as possible, which had angered him.  He had an over-developed sense of his own importance and found it inconceivable that she would not desire to be his wife.  When forced to be in his company she had been barely civil and always remained very near to one of her sisters.  He had heard of young women playing hard to get and determined that Elizabeth was doing just that.  His thinking she desired him as well led to even more lascivious thoughts of his intended.  He had been furious at the treatment he received from Elizabeth, Mr. Darcy, and Mr. Bennet when he had been refused Elizabeth’s hand.  He had desired his revenge upon them since that time. Tomorrow he would make his way to the area surrounding Longbourn and watch for his chance to carry out his patroness’s wishes.  William Collins drifted off to sleep with a lecherous smirk on his face.  

Mr. Collins gazed in the mirror at his appearance.  Lady Catherine had procured clothes for him to wear rather than have him appear as a parson.  She had given him explicit orders to do whatever was necessary to compromise Elizabeth Bennet, thereby ending the engagement to her nephew, Fitzwilliam Darcy.  Collins was delighted at the opportunity to gain his revenge and looked forward to having his way with Elizabeth.  He tried to devise a plan that would allow him to come upon his cousin unaware.  Smiling to himself, Collins relished the fact that he would be able to take what he wanted from Elizabeth.  Then when she was ruined, he would offer to save her reputation and that of her sisters by marrying her.  He looked forward to having Elizabeth in his control and promised himself he would show her his displeasure for her past behavior. 

Never once did it occur to the obtuse parson that he had never actually proposed to Elizabeth, only assumed her acceptance, as Mrs. Bennet had granted her approval of the arrangement.  He determined his best opportunity would occur when she took one of her imprudent early morning rambles.  Collins would have to rise very early and make his way to the area beyond the gardens of Longbourn.  Surely he would be able to accomplish his goal as she walked out one morning. 

TUESDAY’S TALE — 4/15/22

We are getting close to the end of the story. Today, we have chapters 14 and 15. Happy Reading!

CHAPTER 14

The next morning Darcy was filled with an incredible sense of elation.  Today was the day!  Today he would ask his dearest, loveliest Elizabeth to be his wife!  He lay back on his bed with his hands behind his head and stared up at the canopy wondering how long it would be before they could marry.  How many more lonely nights would he spend before his beautiful Elizabeth would be by his side forever?  He remembered how she had looked at Netherfield when he saw her wake from her nap and imagined what it would be like to see that same vision each morning for the rest of his life.  

Darcy planned to visit his jeweler, Rundell and Bridge, later that morning.  He would have the ring’s setting checked and have it cleaned.  He wanted it to appear to its best advantage when he presented it to Elizabeth.  With Jane’s help, he had learned Elizabeth’s ring size and would also have the jeweler adjust the ring he selected to fit her exactly.  He wanted everything to be perfect on this most important of days!  

While breaking his fast with Georgiana, he told her of his plans for the day.  He also arranged with her to knock on his sitting room door when she left Elizabeth.  He would then wait a few minutes before joining her.  He finished his meal and, with a kiss to Georgiana’s cheek, departed for his errands.  His carriage was waiting at the door, and with a jaunty step he climbed in and rapped on the roof to alert the driver he was ready to go.  

The visit to the jeweler went well.  While the ring was being adjusted and cleaned, Darcy looked over the items in the shop.  As he glanced into one of the cases, a choker-style necklace with a matching bracelet and drop earrings caught his eye.  The set was made of pearls and diamonds that alternated around the necklace. From the diamond at the center of the necklace, a string containing five pearls and four diamonds dropped downward.  The earrings consisted of three pearls and two diamonds.  The pearls were perfectly matched in size and of a rich, creamy color that would look exceptional against Elizabeth’s skin.  

Darcy looked up when the owner came from the back of the shop with Elizabeth’s ring.  He examined it carefully and was pleased with what he saw—the ring sparkled brilliantly.  He returned it to the jeweler, who placed it in a new black velvet box lined with white satin.  

“Will there be anything else, Mr. Darcy?” the shop owner asked.  

“As a matter of fact,” said Darcy, “I would like to purchase this set as a gift.  Would you please box it up for me as well?”  

~~~~~~~

“Certainly,” said the shop owner with a pleased expression.  

From there Darcy walked down the street to a store specializing in ladies’ accessories.  He purchased a few items to be sent directly to Pemberley for after the wedding.  He also purchased another gift to give Elizabeth on their wedding night, as well as some beautiful handkerchiefs edged in fine lace.  He would ask Georgiana to embroider Elizabeth’s new initials on them with some sprigs of lavender, as he knew it was the fragrance she preferred.  Upon completing his purchases, he returned home in time for luncheon with his sister.  After luncheon, he tried to complete some of the correspondence on his desk but was often distracted with thoughts of Elizabeth.  Just before she was due to arrive, Darcy went upstairs to bathe and change so that he looked his best when he proposed.  

After playing with the children all morning, Elizabeth retired to her room after luncheon for a brief rest before dressing for tea with Georgiana.  She hoped that she would have the opportunity to see William sometime during her visit.  She had not seen him at all the day before and missed him exceedingly.  

As Elizabeth descended the stairs to depart, she heard the sound of the children’s voices coming from the parlor, and she stopped in the doorway to say goodbye.  

“I am leaving now, Aunt,” Elizabeth said.  “I will be home in time for dinner.”  

“Goodbye, Lizzy,” the children cried, rushing forward to hug her.  

“Enjoy your afternoon with Miss Darcy,” said her aunt with a smile.  

Elizabeth entered the carriage and watched the traffic passing by as she made her way to Darcy house. When she arrived, a footman rushed forward to open the door and help her down.  She mounted the stairs to Darcy House just as the door was opened to admit her. 

“Good afternoon, Miss Elizabeth, welcome to Darcy House,” said Treywick as he bowed.  

“Good afternoon, Treywick,” Elizabeth said with a smile.  “How are you today, sir?”  

“Very well, thank you, miss.  If you will follow me, Miss Darcy is waiting for you in the gold drawing room.”  Treywick opened the door and announced Elizabeth before closing the doors behind her.    

Elizabeth had been in this room only once before, on the evening she first dined at Darcy House.  She had been so nervous and excited that she had not taken in her surroundings that evening, but now she had time to look.  The drawing room looked out over the park across the street.  The walls were painted a rich gold with white woodwork.  There were sofas in gold with brown and white stripes, several wingback chairs covered in a rich brown brocade, and smaller chairs about the room covered in floral fabric of gold, white, brown, and tan.  The wood floors were a rich dark brown and the carpet in the center of the room possessed the same colors as the furnishings.  It was an elegant room with a rich décor that exuded peacefulness.  

“Lizzy, how wonderful that you could come this afternoon.  I am so glad to see you again.”  

“And, I, you, Georgiana,” replied Elizabeth as she reached for the young girl’s hands and gave them a squeeze. 

While they drank their tea, Georgiana and Elizabeth discussed all the things that had happened since they were last together. The room frequently rang with laughter as they talked, and an hour passed quickly.  

They had been discussing music when Georgiana said, “Will you excuse me, Lizzy?  There is something I want to show you.  It will take me only a moment to retrieve it from my room.”  

“Certainly,” said Elizabeth.  

Georgiana hastily departed the drawing room and made her way to Darcy’s sitting room.  She knocked quietly, and at his call to enter, she peeked around the door.  “She is all yours,” said Georgiana with a giggle.  “How long should I wait before I return to the parlor?”  

“Give me at least thirty minutes, but be sure you knock before you enter,” William replied with a grin. 

With another smile at her brother, Georgiana left the room.  Darcy stood and adjusted his waistcoat and ran his hand through his hair.  Then he patted his pocket to be sure the ring was there.  Lastly, he took a couple of deep breaths before heading to the drawing room where Elizabeth waited.  

Georgiana left the drawing room door open when she exited the room, and Darcy paused at the doorway to observe Elizabeth before entering.  She was standing at the window looking out at the passing carriages, and the sun shining in through the casing cast its bright beams all around her.  As though she could sense his presence, Elizabeth turned towards the doorway.  The sun now created a halo around her, the light giving her skin a golden glow and reflecting the red and gold highlights in her hair.  Combined with her warm smile and sparkling eyes, Darcy was stunned by her beauty.  

He took a deep breath and moved across the room toward Elizabeth, pushing the door almost closed as he did.  “Good afternoon, Miss Elizabeth.  How are you?” 

“I am very well, thank you, Mr. Darcy, and you?” she asked.  

“I am well, also.  Has Georgiana abandoned you?” he asked with a smile as he glanced about.  

“I believe she will return shortly.  She said she needed to retrieve something from her room that she wished to show me.” 

“Would you allow me to join you while you wait?”  

“I would be delighted to have your company,” Elizabeth replied as she returned to her place on the sofa.  

Darcy seated himself next to her and took her hand in his.  “Miss Elizabeth, I have a very important topic that I wish to discuss with you.  Are you willing to allow it?” he asked seriously.  

The tingle she always felt at his touch returned along with a warmth that seemed to radiate from her hand up her arm and beyond.  She tried to remain calm as she replied, “Certainly, Mr. Darcy, you know that I find our conversations quite delightful.”  

Darcy slid from the sofa to his knee maintaining his hold on her hand.  Elizabeth’s heart began to race at the look in his eyes.  

“Miss Elizabeth, you must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.  I cannot imagine my future life without you by my side.  In fact, I do not wish to spend another day without knowing that you will always be mine.  Even if I live to be one hundred, it will not be long enough to show you how much I love you.  Elizabeth, will you please make me the happiest of men and accept my hand in marriage?”  

Elizabeth’s heart continued to race as she looked into the bright blue eyes staring deeply into hers.  Her breath caught in her throat as she tried to answer.  She took a deep breath, found her voice, and with tears glistening in her eyes, gave him her reply.  “I can think of nothing that would make my life more complete than to share it with you.” His smile grew slightly, but he moved not a muscle as he awaited the rest of her reply.  “I love you very much, William, and am honored to accept your proposal.”   

At her words, Darcy’s smile grew until both of his dimples showed clearly.  He removed one of his hands from hers, slipped it into his pocket, and withdrew a small black box.  As he opened it, Elizabeth gasped and raised one hand to cover her mouth.  The ring in the box was the most unique and beautiful piece of jewelry Elizabeth had ever seen.  The large center diamond was slightly raised, oval in shape, and surrounded by small diamonds.  On either side of the center stone were matching oval diamonds also ringed in small stones.  These were mounted on a band with more diamonds set into both sides of the band. 

“This ring belonged to my great-grandmother Darcy.  I selected it because she and my great-grandfather enjoyed a long and happy life together, and that is exactly what I wish for us.  Will you please wear it in recognition of our engagement?”  At her nod, he removed the ring from the box and placed it on the ring finger of her left hand.  He leaned down and kissed her ring, then the back of her hand, then her palm, and finally the bare skin of her wrist.  Darcy rose to his feet pulling Elizabeth with him without breaking eye contact with her.  His breath was warm on her cheek and his words were no louder than a whisper.  “May I kiss you, Elizabeth?”  

She could not find the words to answer, but her deep blush, warm look, and slight nod gave him her approval.  Darcy took her face between his hands and leaned down until his lips gently brushed Elizabeth’s.  He pulled back after a few seconds and looked down at her.  The pleasure and acceptance he saw thrilled and encouraged him, so he returned his lips to hers, deepening the kiss slightly.  As she began to respond to his attentions, he slid one hand down to the small of her back and pulled her more snugly against his body.  His other hand moved to the back of her neck and held her there.  Elizabeth’s hands rose to rest against his chest.  Both of them were slightly breathless when Darcy broke the kiss.  He continued to hold Elizabeth gently in his arms as his head rested upon her fragrant curls.  Breathless from the experience, Elizabeth’s head lay upon his chest, and she could hear his heart’s fast but steady beat.  Her breathing slowed in time with his heart as they recovered from their first kiss.  

Shortly after they returned to their positions on the sofa, Georgiana knocked at the door before entering the room.  Seeing the ring adorning Elizabeth’s finger, she let out a squeal of delight and threw herself at her brother and Elizabeth.  There were congratulations and hugs all around before Georgiana said, “Oh, Lizzy, you must stay for dinner so that we can celebrate properly.  I am sure the Gardiners will not mind, and I can loan you a dress to wear.  Please say you will stay, please, please,” Georgiana begged.  

Elizabeth laughingly looked at Darcy to see his opinion.  He was smiling widely with both dimples clearly on display.  Taking that for his agreement with Georgiana’s invitation, she smiled and said, “I would be delighted to stay.  Thank you for the invitation.”  

Darcy looked at the clock and realized it was getting late.  He needed to get Elizabeth upstairs before the guests arrived.  With a speaking glance at Georgiana, he said, “Ladies, I believe that we should retire to change if we wish to be on time for dinner.”  Darcy offered an arm to each lady and headed towards the family quarters.  “I shall return to escort you downstairs promptly at six-thirty,” said Darcy with a smile and a bow as he left them at Georgiana’s door.  

Darcy quickly changed and hurried downstairs to welcome his guests as they arrived.  At five minutes before the time appointed to escort the ladies, he said, “Ladies and gentlemen if you will excuse, me I shall return shortly with Elizabeth and Georgiana.”  

Darcy knocked on the door and was granted entry to Georgiana’s sitting room.  Elizabeth looked lovely in an ivory gown trimmed in soft rose ribbons.  There were ribbon roses in the same shade arranged in her hair.  Her only ornamentation was the garnet cross she often wore that had been given to her by her father on her tenth birthday.  Upon seeing her, Darcy lifted her hand and bestowed a lingering kiss on the back as well as an additional one to her palm.  The look in his eyes made Elizabeth blush, but she boldly returned his stare.  

As they arrived at the drawing room, Georgiana let go of her brother’s arm and the footmen opened the doors.  Georgiana quickly moved into the room and turned to look at the couple.  Standing in the doorway, Darcy placed his hand over Elizabeth’s, which was resting on his arm.  Then, with his dimples showing, he gave their news.  “I am thrilled to announce that Miss Elizabeth Bennet has done me the very great honor of accepting my hand in marriage.”   

Cries of congratulations greeted Elizabeth’s ears as she realized all of their closest family was already assembled.  She looked at first Darcy and then Georgiana, who was wearing a guilty grin.  Turning towards Darcy, she leaned in close and whispered, “You were quite certain of my answer, sir.”  

“Was there any reason I should have had doubts?” he asked with a slight frown.  

She patted his arm, smiled, and said, “No, there was not and thank you for this thoughtful celebration.  I cannot think of anything I would enjoy more than celebrating this wonderful event with our dearest family.  I only wish that my father could have been here, too.”  

“Though your uncle can sign the settlement papers, I could try to convince your father to come to town alone to do so.  Then we could have a private celebration with him,” he said with a hopeful smile.  

By this time, they had made their way into the drawing room.  Jane was the first to rush forward to offer her congratulations.  She was quickly followed by Aunt Madeline, Lady Julia, and Lady Matlock.  Darcy was also surrounded by the gentlemen, who patted his back and pumped his hand as they offered their congratulations.  

They were shortly called into dinner, where much laughing and toasting occurred.  All of the gentlemen in attendance offered a toast to the couple, ranging from Mr. Gardiner’s wishes for a long and happy life to Richard’s slightly more ribald one.  After dinner, Georgiana and Elizabeth performed one of the new love songs included in the music Darcy and his sister had given her for Christmas.  Plans were also made for the group to attend the opera in two days.  It would be the public celebration of the engagement and would demonstrate strong support of the union by both families.  The party had gone long into the evening before everyone departed for their respective homes in the best of spirits.  

CHAPTER 15

The morning after the engagement, Darcy and Georgiana paid a call on the Gardiners.  Once everyone was settled in the sitting room, Mrs. Gardiner asked, “What brings you all here this morning?”  

“I was hoping to talk with Miss Elizabeth regarding a wedding date,” said Darcy with a hopeful glance in Elizabeth’s direction.  

She smiled warmly at him.  “Did you have a particular date in mind, Mr. Darcy?”  

“I would like for us to marry in six weeks, if that meets with your approval, Miss Elizabeth,” Darcy smiled hopefully.  

“Is there a particular reason you wish it to be so soon?” Elizabeth asked with a teasing smile.  She had no desire to wait long to be married, but she did not want to give in too easily.  

“Not really. I only thought we could then go straight to Pemberley to enjoy our honeymoon.  The spring and summer months there are very lovely, and the weather would give us the perfect opportunity to wander the estate and explore its natural beauties.  Did you prefer to travel somewhere for a wedding trip, Elizabeth?” Darcy asked.  

“Though I would dearly love to travel, it does not have to be for our honeymoon.  I am very anxious to see my new home, so traveling straight to Pemberley is fine with me.  Now, about the six weeks. I am not sure my mother will feel that is sufficient time to plan the extravaganza required for a man with ten thousand a year,” she said, attempting to suppress her grin.  

Noting the sparkle in her eyes and the smile she was trying to disguise, Darcy decided to tease back a little.  “Well, if you feel we must wait longer, I suppose we could wait for three months.” 

Elizabeth’s eyes widened in dismay, causing Darcy to laugh out loud.   Taking in his expression, Elizabeth smiled and said, “I see you are becoming more proficient at teasing, sir.  However, I believe six weeks will be just right.  I would prefer my mother not have the time to make things into too much of a spectacle.  I believe we would both prefer a smaller, more private affair.”  

“I would, indeed, Elizabeth,” he said with a large grin.  He was delighted to be able to call her by name in public now that they were engaged.  

Elizabeth gave him a dazzling smile as she heard her name fall from his lips.  Turning to her aunt, she said, “Do you think that six weeks will be a sufficient amount of time to order a trousseau and wedding gown?  Will it allow Mama enough time to arrange all that needs to be done, Aunt Madeline?”  At her aunt’s nod, she said, “Well then, William, we will be wed in six weeks.”  

Darcy and Georgiana were invited to stay for luncheon, and their conversation was about the things that would need to be accomplished in town before the wedding.  Darcy also arranged for his carriage to take them to the opera and return them to Matlock House for a late supper afterward.  As the weather was pleasant, Darcy loaded Elizabeth, Jane, and the children into his carriage and took everyone to Hyde Park for a pleasant afternoon outing.  

~~~~~~~

The next morning, the following announcement appeared in the newspaper:

Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy of Darcy House, London

and Pemberley, Derbyshire

Son of the late Mr. Gerald and Lady Anne Darcy

is delighted to announce his engagement to

Miss Elizabeth Diana Bennet

Daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Bennet

of Longbourn, Hertfordshire

This news was greeted with a multitude of reactions throughout the city.  Shouting and temper tantrums occurred in the homes of Caroline Bingley and Lady Marjorie.  Lord Wescott felt a profound sense of disappointment.   He had come to admire Miss Elizabeth over the course of his acquaintance with the lady.  For the first time in his life, he wished he were a better man.  There were obviously young women in the world who were different from the usual type encountered among the ton.  He always toyed with the women he met because he was bored by their sameness.  Miss Elizabeth was wonderfully unique, and he wondered if there was another like her somewhere in the world.  Of course, there were also many young women and their mothers who could not understand what Miss Elizabeth had done to garner Darcy’s interest.  Fortunately, there were also many friends who were pleased that he seemed so very happy.  

No one was happier to see the announcement than the two people it most concerned.  Darcy and Elizabeth both considered themselves the most fortunate people in the world to have found their perfect other half—the one person who loved them completely and unconditionally.  

At a rundown tavern in the deepest recesses of the London slums, one person who read the news was overwhelmed with rage.  Wickham was furious with Darcy’s continued good fortune.  He had it all—wealth, good looks, several estates, and soon a comely young wife whom he adored and who adored him in return.  It was not fair, and he was not going to stand for it.  I am the one Darcy’s father favored.  I was the one who lavished all that time on old Mr. Darcy, and I am the one who should have inherited everything, not Darcy!  If I can just get rid of Darcy, I can take his wife-to-be and his sister, and everything else he owns.   As he downed another pint, he thought, I have got to come up with a scheme to help me gain all that I desire.  

~~~~~~~

Later that evening, the Darcy and Bingley carriages arrived at the Gardiners’.  With the addition of Georgiana and Mrs. Annesley to the party, it was necessary to bring two carriages.  Everyone was ready and waiting, so the party quickly departed for the opera house to see a performance of Mozart’s The Magic Flute.  Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner and Jane rode in Bingley’s carriage while Elizabeth rode with Darcy, his sister, and her companion.  

“I understand that the Viscount is bringing Lady Penelope with him to the opera this evening.  I thought this was going to be a family gathering,” said Elizabeth.  

“It is,” replied Darcy, “I think that you will find she will be family before too long,” he said with a smile.  

“Oh, how wonderful!  I enjoyed making her acquaintance and believe we will become good friends.  We are hoping for an opportunity to work on some music together for a future performance.  I have always wished to perform with a harp as accompaniment.”  

“I think it was at his parent’s Twelfth Night Ball that the Viscount began to see her as something other than just another debutante.  He said she was quite lively when they talked and reminded him a little bit of you,” said Darcy, frowning slightly.  

Arriving at the theater, they found the lobby more crowded than usual.  When the Darcy party entered, the noise increased as people watched the group’s progress through the lobby.   After turning Elizabeth’s cloak over to the attendant, Darcy got his first look at his love.  Her gown was a beautiful shade of lavender, and the bodice of her gown formed a deep V.  The overskirt was split from the Empire waist to expose a shimmering silver underskirt.  Where the low point of the bodice met the split overdress, there was beautiful beadwork that drew the eye.  A set of delicate silver earrings, necklace, and bracelet completed her attire.  Everything about Elizabeth seemed to sparkle this evening—her gown, her jewelry, and especially her beautiful eyes.  

Darcy offered his arm to Elizabeth as they ascended the stairs to their box, with the rest of the party following.  Several people stopped to offer their congratulations, but Darcy kept the encounters short and attempted to reach his box as quickly as possible.  Arriving at the landing where the Darcy box was located, they were greeted by the Matlock party.  

“Elizabeth, my dear, you look beautiful tonight,” said Lady Matlock.  

“Indeed you do,” agreed Lord Matlock.  “Darcy is a lucky man.”  

“He certainly is that,” laughed the Colonel.  “I am glad you will be off the market, old man,” he said as he clapped his cousin’s shoulder, “Now maybe the ladies will notice the rest of us.”  

Darcy blushed at his cousin’s remarks, but at the slight squeeze of Elizabeth’s hand to his arm, he relaxed and smiled.  “You are going to need more than my absence to get them to look your way, Richard,” said Darcy with a sly smile.  

The Viscount laughed and said, “You certainly left yourself open for that one, little brother.” 

As the gentlemen chuckled and continued to tease each other, Lady Penelope said to Elizabeth, “Congratulations on your engagement to Mr. Darcy, Miss Elizabeth.  You seem to be very well-suited to one another, and I wish you every happiness.”  

“Thank you, Lady Penelope.  I do hope we will continue to see much of you,” said Elizabeth with a smile.  

“I hope so, too.  Your addition to the social scene this season has given me permission to be myself and not the cookie-cutter version of a young lady that my school and society deem acceptable.  It is amazing to me how much just being myself has changed things.  It brought me to the Viscount’s attention, for which I am most grateful,” Lady Penelope finished softly.  

“Well then,” said Elizabeth, with a smile, “I hope things progress as you desire.”  

Darcy turned to claim Elizabeth’s attention, and Lady Penelope offered her congratulations to him as well.  Then the party moved on to their boxes for the performance.  Darcy and Elizabeth, Jane and Bingley, Richard and Lady Julia, and the Viscount and Lady Penelope occupied the Darcy box.  In the Matlock box sat Lord and Lady Matlock, Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner, Georgiana, and Mrs. Annesley.  

They settled in for the performance, and Darcy was again mesmerized by the rapt look on Elizabeth’s face as she took in the experience of the opera.  The opera company was very good, but what Darcy enjoyed most was watching Elizabeth’s lips move as she sang along.  It thrilled him to the core to be the person who was opening up a whole new world of experiences to Elizabeth.  What he liked best was seeing the same old things through new eyes—eyes that took delight in everything they encountered.  

At the first intermission, the couples exited Darcy’s box, along with Georgiana and Mrs. Annesley, to partake of refreshments.  The gentlemen stood in line to retrieve some lemonade for them, leaving the ladies behind when Lady Marjorie approached the group.  “Why Miss Elizabeth, you do work quickly.  Whatever did you do to get Mr. Darcy to propose to you?” asked Lady Marjorie snidely.  

Jane, Georgiana, Lady Julia, and Lady Penelope gasped at the rude remarks of the newcomer, but Elizabeth looked at her calmly and replied.  “You are mistaken, Lady Marjorie, I did not have to do anything to make Mr. Darcy propose.  He wanted to propose much sooner, but my father insisted that we have a period of courtship first.  He wanted to be sure I would find enjoyment in my interactions with the ton before allowing me to accept a proposal from Mr. Darcy.  Oh, and I have enjoyed it immensely.  The follies and foibles of those I have observed can be quite entertaining.  Then, of course, I have made many delightful friends as well,” she said with a smile at Lady Penelope and Lady Julia.  She noted they both had their lips tightly pressed together to avoid laughing.  “I do hope you enjoy the rest of the performance, Lady Marjorie,” said Elizabeth as she directed her attention to her companions and ignored Lady Marjorie.  

Noting the look on Lady Marjorie’s face as she turned and stalked off, Lady Penelope said, “Miss Elizabeth, that was masterfully done, but I must caution you.  Lady Marjorie has been known to be quite vicious to those whom she perceives as rivals.  Please be alert whenever you are in her company.  There were rumors that she had a young lady’s reputation ruined to eliminate her from competition for the heir to a Dukedom.”  

Before more could be said, the gentlemen returned.  It was a merry group that visited together as they partook of the refreshments.  During this time, many others stopped to congratulate Darcy on his engagement, including Lord and Lady Redvale and Lord and Lady Covington.  One of those who offered congratulations was Lord Wescott.  Elizabeth had encountered him many times since their introduction at the Covington’s ball.  He knew he had behaved inappropriately that evening and was sure that Darcy would have warned her about his reputation.  However, at all the subsequent occasions when they met, he behaved in a pleasant and kind manner.  If he attempted to cross any lines, her sharp wit politely put him in his place.  The more he encountered her, the more respectful and gentlemanlike his manner became.  He thought of the pleasure it would be to share his life with someone like Elizabeth Bennet.  And though Lord Wescott had frequently laughed at Darcy’s disapproval of his dissolute ways, he now realized what it would mean to have a woman in his life worth pleasing.  Darcy was a lucky man to have won such a remarkable woman.  

Lord Wescott bowed to the couple, saying, “Mr. Darcy, Miss Elizabeth, please accept my congratulations on your engagement.  You are a very fortunate gentleman to have met such an outstanding young lady.  I wish you all the best.”  Darcy and Elizabeth both thanked him before he moved away.  

Lord Wescott was no longer within earshot or sight of the group when he was accosted by his cousin, Lady Marjorie.  “That little upstart had the presumption to laugh at me this evening.  It is time that she was put in her proper place, and I think that I have decided on when to do it—at her engagement ball.  I feel certain that Lady Matlock will wish to have a ball for them, and I cannot think of a better form of revenge.  Lady Matlock chided me at her holiday ball when she overheard me saying that Miss Elizabeth did not belong in the ton.  Just think, I can ruin Elizabeth Bennet’s life, have Darcy free again to offer for me, and repay Lady Matlock by having the seduction take place in her home,” said Lady Marjorie with an evil grin. 

Not for the first time did Lord Wescott regret the bargain he had made with his cousin.  He knew she would be furious if he said he would no longer assist her, so he tried a different tack.  “You do realize that Mr. Darcy may not believe that Miss Elizabeth has been unfaithful to him and will call me out for my actions.  And if he does break off his engagement, what makes you think that Darcy will have anything to do with you afterward, as we are related?”  

Lady Marjorie looked him straight in the eye and said, “Be sure you leave town immediately after he enters the room and finds you there, so he will not have a chance to call you out.  As for the other, I will arrange a compromise of my own so that he will have no choice but to marry me.  I hope we do not have to wait too long for the ball, though, as Father’s financial situation becomes more dire each day,” she finished softly.  

Wescott looked at her in surprise and said, “What is this about your father’s financial situation?  If his finances are in trouble, how do you plan to pay me the money you promised for this venture?”   

Lady Marjorie looked at her cousin sharply, as she had not meant for him to hear her last comment. With a look of concern, she said, “Oh, Wescott, you must be having trouble with your hearing, I said nothing of the kind.  Of course, you shall be paid.  In fact, if you help me compromise Mr. Darcy after he is free from this entanglement, I will pay you even more.”  

With that, she turned and walked off, returning to the friends with whom she had come to the opera. Lord Wescott stared after her, not moving until he heard the bells announcing that the performance was about to recommence.  He knew what he had to do, and for the first time in his life he felt pleased with himself and his intentions.  

When Wescott returned to his box, he frequently turned to observe Elizabeth Bennet.  Her obvious delight in the performance mesmerized him.

The family and friends all returned to Matlock House after the opera for a late dinner.  As they gathered in the drawing room before the meal, the conversation was centered on the performance.  Gradually it shifted to the reactions of various members of the ton regarding the engagement.  

Georgiana spoke up, saying, “We were unfortunate enough to encounter one lady who was not happy with the situation.”  

“Who was that, Georgie, dear?” asked Lady Matlock.  

“Lady Marjorie.  She was extremely rude to Elizabeth, but you would have been very proud of her, Aunt Rebecca, as she handled the situation beautifully.”  Georgiana recounted what occurred for the rest of the family.  

“I must say, Miss Elizabeth, it sounds as if you handled the matter superbly,” said Lady Matlock. 

“She did, indeed,” added Lady Penelope.  “Unfortunately, Lady Marjorie was quite angry when she left us.  I warned Miss Elizabeth that she will need to be very careful in her presence in the future given Lady Marjorie’s reputation for ruining anyone who stands in the way of what she wants.”  

Darcy had been listening quietly to the conversation and was very proud of the way Elizabeth handled herself in such a difficult situation.  However, he was also extremely angry at the affront Lady Marjorie gave to his beloved Elizabeth.  He would have to give thought as to how he would act the next time he encountered the lady.  

Before the Gardiners departed for their home, Lady Matlock invited Mrs. Gardiner and her nieces, along with Georgiana, to return for tea in two days’ time.  She thought they should begin discussing the wedding and making plans to accomplish all that would need to be done in the few weeks remaining.  

TUESDAY’S TALE — Revelations at Hunsford, Chapter 16

Tuesday's Tale

 

CHAPTER 16

“Where is my daughter? Why has she not returned?” bellowed Lady Catherine.

Her lady’s maid shifted from foot to foot, clasping and unclasping her fingers, as she replied, “I am afraid Miss de Bourgh is not yet back from London, my lady.”

“How long since you mailed my letter?” The lady’s imperious tone did nothing to soothe the maid’s unease.

“You sent a letter ten days ago. Do you not remember that Miss Anne replied that she was too busy with Mr. and Miss Darcy to return at this time?”

“Of course, I remember,” snapped the ill-tempered patient. “Then why have I not seen an announcement of their engagement in the paper? Are you sure that we have received the London papers each day?”

“Yes, your ladyship.”

“Send for Mr. Collins then. I demand he present himself immediately.”

Eyes wide, the servant gulped, replying, “I cannot, your ladyship. You know the doctor does not wish you to have visitors as of yet.”

“Then send for the doctor post-haste.”

“Yes, your ladyship.” The maid scurried from the room. Upon reaching the hallway, she leaned against the wall and took a deep breath before rushing below stairs to find someone to carry out Lady Catherine’s request.

Dr. Walker took his time in arriving at Rosings. It had been almost three weeks since the accident, and he did not think he would be able to keep visitors away from Lady Catherine for much longer. He hoped that Miss de Bourgh would marry very soon so that she would be beyond her mother’s reach.

At the knock, Lady Catherine’s maid crossed the room, opening the bedchamber door to admit the doctor.

“You took long enough,” complained Lady Catherine.

“I am sorry I was attending another patient when I received your message. As the note did not indicate your need was an emergency, I came as soon as possible. What seems to be the trouble, Lady Catherine?”

“I wish you to lift the ban on visitors. I am lonely and would like my parson to visit. He could make himself useful by reading to me.”

“Should he not be attending to parish duties? I would be happy to stop by the parsonage and ask Mrs. Collins to come read to you if you would like.”

“Perhaps some other time, but for now, I wish Mr. Collins to attend me.”

“The gentleman has been overwrought by your illness. I do not think it is wise for him to be around you as he may cause you to become agitated as well. You know that should you move about too much, your recovery will take longer.”

“Then, I shall order him to be still,’ she snapped, “but I need to learn of any needs in the parish so that I might offer whatever assistance is required.”

The doctor knew that she wished for the latest gossip so that she might force others to bend to her will. He attempted to repress a smile as he answered, “You are unable to assist anyone at this time.”

“I am aware of that,” barked the lady, “but my reach and influence allow me to offer assistance through my steward or Mr. Collins. I demand that you permit him to visit me.”

“Very well, Lady Catherine, but you must wait until tomorrow before seeing him. Since the day is far-gone, I do not wish his visit to distress you before you retire. Sleep is the best thing to ensure that you recover to your fullest.”

“Very well.” The pout on the older woman’s face almost made Mr. Walker laugh. Turning away to hide the smile her expression conjured, he picked up his bag to depart. Looking back, he said, I shall visit you on Monday next week as usual. Please remember to remain still so that you will recover without causing permanent damage to the joint.”

“Yes, yes,” said the lady as she shooed him out the door.

As Mr. Walker stepped up into his carriage to return to his home, he muttered, “I pray you to accomplish your goal soon, Miss Anne. I have done all I can to assist you.”

The next day a footman from Rosings appeared at the door of the parsonage with the message that Lady Catherine wished Mr. Collins to attend her forthwith. As things transpired, Mr. Collins was out on parish business, and Mrs. Collins was visiting several of the sick and elderly parishioners. Consequently, in the late afternoon, when the parson returned to his home for tea, he received Lady Catherine’s message. Without stopping to freshen his attire, he rushed to Rosings. When Jackson tried to turn him away, Mr. Collins pushed his hand against the door to keep it from closing, crying, “Lady Catherine demanded my presence.”

Jackson looked skeptical and only opened the door wider upon seeing the summons sent to the clergyman.  Even then, he reluctantly admitted the distasteful man. Mr. Collins rushed passed the butler and directly up the stairs to Lady Catherine’s chamber. He knocked on the door and tapped his foot as he waited for it to open. When the maid admitted him, the parson practically raced across the room and paid obeisance to his patroness.

“Why did you keep me waiting so long, Mr. Collins? I sent for you early this morning.”

“Your pardon, Lady Catherine, other duties demanded my attention, and I only just arrived home. I did not even stop to change as I desired, most anxiously, to see you. Do you need my comfort and succor? How can I help you?”

“I need to know what transpired since I became ill. Do you know when Anne went to town and in whose company she traveled?”

“I tried to counsel, Miss de Bourgh, about the company she kept, but she would not heed my words.”

“Why would my daughter need your advice? Her cousins were here to assist her in any way she needed.”

“That was the problem; she did not realize she was taking a snake to her bosom by inviting Miss Bennet to stay here with she and the others. When I tried to tell her that Miss Elizabeth was attempting to steal Mr. Darcy from her, she said there was no engagement between her and her cousin and that she was pleased that Mr. Darcy found someone to love.” Mr. Collins hoped that Lady Catherine would not wonder why cousin Elizabeth need to leave his home, but the hope was short-lived.

“Why would Miss Bennet need to stay at Rosings when she was in the area to visit her friend and was staying with you?”

His face a mottled red, his voice hard, the parson replied. “The vixen manipulated Mr. Darcy into believing that I harmed her and that she was not safe in my home.”

“When the trouble arose, why did you not just send her home?”

“I tried, but Mr. Darcy intervened and said that Miss de Bourgh would welcome her at Rosings until the time of her scheduled departure.”

A suspicion growing in her mind, Lady Catherine demanded, “With whom did my daughter travel to London?”

“Miss de Bourgh departed in Mr. Darcy’s carriage,” the woman smiled at his words, then began to wonder at his hesitation to continue.

“Who else departed with her and Darcy?” Lady Catherine’s tone informed the man that he could not fail to answer.

“The two you mentioned traveled with the colonel and my cousin.”

“This is all your fault,” cried Lady Catherine. “You brought that jezebel into our sphere and my home.”

“I had no way of knowing she would behave in such a manner.”

“If you had the sense God gave a pig, you should have predicted that a woman who turned down a worthy proposal from a parson was a troublemaker. Now you shall need to make things right. I demand you go to London–to Darcy House. You will take a letter that I give you to the newspaper announcing Darcy and Anne’s engagement, and you will ensure that she returns to me promptly. You need to leave in the morning; I will expect you and Anne to be back the day after tomorrow. I believe you should insist that Darcy return as well. Then you can read the banns beginning on Sunday. We shall ensure they marry the day after the third reading of the banns.”

“But – but – Lady Catherine, how shall I make her come home. She ignored my advice before, what will make her listen now?”

“You will tell her that if she does not return, I will disinherit her.” Mr. Collins looked appalled at the words of his patroness. “You would do such a thing to your daughter.”

“If Anne refuses to return, then you are to go to the office of my solicitor and deliver to him a letter that I will also prepare.”

“Y-y-y-yes, your ladyship. I will do as you say.” The parson again bowed deeply and backed towards the door. When be bumped into the wall, he nearly pitched forward onto his face. Struggling to regain his balance, he wobbled through the door held open by the maid.

~~~~~~~

It was the night before the wedding, the three Bennets, Gardiners, Darcys, and Charles Bingley all gathered at Matlock House for a celebratory dinner. Tomorrow would see the ladies taking up residence in their future homes. Two days after the wedding, the Fitzwilliam family, including its newest member, would return to Rosings to deal with Lady Catherine. Elizabeth expressed the desire to be of assistance to her friend and new cousin. Darcy, fearing the harsh words his aunt would hurl at Elizabeth, tried to convince her that the others could deal with Lady Catherine and that Elizabeth’s presence might only provoke the older woman, making the situation worse. Insisting she could be helpful without Lady Catherine’s knowledge of her being at Rosings, she pleaded they go as well. Elizabeth hoped to foster a relationship between Charlotte and Anne, knowing they would enjoy each other’s company and probably become good friends as well.

The earl and Andrew would deal with the legalities. Elizabeth would oversee the servants making the dower house ready for its new tenant, and the countess would help Anne with staffing and redecorating.

The group had an early dinner and said their goodnights sooner then the men would have liked. For ease in preparing everyone for the upcoming nuptials, Georgina, Elizabeth, and Jane would be spending the night at Matlock House with Anne. Andrew and Nicholas would be moving to Darcy House for the night.

While Mrs. Gardiner and Lady Matlock spoke to Elizabeth and Jane and Anne respectively about what to expect on their wedding nights, the gentlemen retired to Darcy House for a game or two of billiards. As Andrew was also to marry in the morning, they did not overindulge in liquor, a trick he would have surely played on his staid cousin had circumstances been different. However, the lack of imbibing did not mean the two soon-to-be-grooms enjoyed a peaceful evening. They received a monumental amount of teasing about giving up their freedom. However, Darcy was quick to remind Bingley that his day was fast approaching, and he should expect payback.

After two games, Darcy wished to retire. He stopped by the library to check on Mr. Bennet before making his way to his chamber. Once ready to retire, Darcy dismissed Clarke and sat beside the fire a brandy in his hand.

Darcy could not believe that all of his dreams would come true in less than twelve hours. A restless excitement filled him, so he stood and moved to the door that adjoined the mistress’ chamber. Opening the door, Darcy looked about. When initially shown the room, Elizabeth found it pleasant and said she did not see the need to make changes as everything appeared to be in good condition. However, Darcy wanted only the best for his beautiful Elizabeth, so he decided to make some changes to refresh the room as a surprise. The furniture in the room was of rich deep cherry wood and in the delicate late baroque or Queen Anne style as it was coming to be known. Knowing the colors Elizabeth favored, Darcy had the walls done in pale yellow silk. Filling the picture frame trim on the walls around the room was a fabric with a white trellis pattern on a pale blue background, climbing the trellis were small clusters of yellow and blue flowers. The same material covered the settee before the fire that was flanked by a pair of light blue and white striped chairs. There was a writing desk near one window and a deep yellow brocaded chaise lounge near the other. Imagining her look of pleasure, Darcy closed the door and retired to bed, dreaming of his dearest, loveliest Elizabeth.

~~~~~~~

The sun was just breaking the horizon when one of Lady Catherine’s carriages arrived at the parsonage. Mr. Collins stumbled from the house, a small travel bag in his hands. As he reached the door, the footman handed him two letters addressed in Lady Catherine’s bold, angular hand. He tucked them into his coat pocket before stepping into the carriage. Collins fell onto the bench as the driver slapped the reins, and the horses sprang forward. He dreaded the trip and wondered what the consequences would be should he fail. The parson was pleased that he would deliver the letter announcing Mr. Darcy and Miss de Bourgh’s engagement as it would cause pain and embarrassment to his cousin.

Having a four-hour journey ahead of him, Mr. Collins settled into the corner of the carriage and was soon snoring louder than the rattle of the vehicle. At the half-way point, the carriage stopped to change horses, and Mr. Collins took the opportunity to break his fast before continuing his journey.

YOUR COMMENTS, OPINIONS, AND SUGGESTIONS ARE IMPORTANT TO ME.  I HOPE YOU WILL TAKE THE TIME TO LEAVE A COMMENT.

IF YOU ENJOYED THIS STORY, PLEASE CLICK THE LINK AND IT WILL TAKE YOU TO MY BOOKS PAGE WHERE YOU CAN PURCHASE MY PREVIOUS WORKS.  http://lindacthompsonbooks.com/books/

Linda-Book-Logo13-01 copy 2

TUESDAY’S TALE — Revelations at Hunsford, Chapter 16

Tuesday's Tale

 

CHAPTER 16

“Where is my daughter? Why did she not return?” bellowed Lady Catherine.  

Her lady’s maid shifted from foot to foot, clasping and unclasping her fingers, as she replied, “I am afraid Miss de Bourgh remains in London, my lady.”

“How many days since you mailed my letter?” The lady’s imperious tone did nothing to soothe the maid’s unease.

“You sent a letter ten days ago. Do you not remember that Miss Anne replied that plans with Mr. and Miss Darcy would not permit her to return at this time?”

“Of course, I remember,” snapped the ill-tempered patient. “Then why did I not see an announcement of their engagement in the paper? Are you sure that we have received the London papers each day?”

“Yes, your ladyship.”

“Send for Mr. Collins. I demand he attend me immediately.”

Eyes wide, the servant gulped, replying, “I cannot, your ladyship. You know the doctor does not wish you to receive visitors as of yet.”

“Then send for the doctor post-haste.”

“Yes, your ladyship.” The maid scurried from the room. Upon reaching the hallway, she leaned against the wall and took a deep breath before rushing belowstairs to find someone to carryout Lady Catherine’s request.

Dr. Walker took his time in arriving at Rosings. The accident took place almost three weeks ago, and he did not think he would be able to keep visitors away from Lady Catherine much longer. He hoped that Miss de Bourgh’s wedding would be very soon so that she would be beyond her mother’s reach.

At the knock, Lady Catherine’s maid crossed the room, opening the bedchamber door to admit the doctor.

“You took your time in arriving,” complained Lady Catherine.

“I am sorry. I was attending another patient when I received your message. As the note did not indicate your need to be an emergency, I came as soon as I was available. What seems to be the trouble, Lady Catherine?”

“I wish you to lift the ban on visitors. I am lonely and would like to visit with my parson. He could make himself useful by reading to me.”

“Should he not be attending to parish duties? I would be happy to stop by the parsonage and ask Mrs. Collins to come read to you if you would like.”

“Perhaps some other time, but for now, I wish Mr. Collins to attend me.”

“The gentleman has been overwrought by your illness. I do not think it is wise for him to be around you as he may cause you to become agitated as well. You know that should you move about too much, you will delay your recovery.”

“Then, I shall order him to be still, but I need to learn of any needs in the parish so that I might offer whatever assistance is needed.”

The doctor knew that she wished for the latest gossip so that she might force others to her will. He attempted to repress a smile as he answered, “You are unable to assist anyone at this time.” 

“I am aware of that,” barked the lady, “but it is still within my power to offer assistance through my steward or Mr. Collins. I demand that you allow him to visit me.”

“Very well, Lady Catherine, but you must wait until tomorrow before seeing him. The day is far gone, and I do not wish his visit to distress you before you retire. Sleep is the best thing to ensure that you recover to your fullest.”

“Very well.” The pout on the older woman’s face almost made Mr. Walker laugh. He turned away to pick up his bag for departure so that she would not observe the smile he could not hide. Turning back, he said, I shall visit you on Monday next week as usual. Please remember to remain still so that you will recover quickly.”

“Yes, yes,” said the lady as she shooed him out the door.

As Mr. Walker stepped up into his carriage to return home, he muttered, “I pray you accomplish your goal soon, Miss Anne. I have done all I can to assist you.”

The next day a footman from Rosings appeared at the door of the parsonage with the message that Lady Catherine demanded Mr. Collins present himself forthwith. As things transpired, Mr. Collins was out on parish business, while Mrs. Collins visited several of the sick and elderly parishioners. Consequently, tea time quickly approached when the parson returned to his home and received Lady Catherine’s message. Without stopping to freshen his attire, he rushed to Rosings. When Jackson tried to turn him away, Mr. Collins pushed his hand against the door to keep it from closing, crying, “Lady Catherine demanded my presence.”

Jackson looked skeptical, and reluctantly opened the door wider. Mr. Collins rushed passed the butler and directly up the stairs to Lady Catherine’s chamber. He knocked on the door and tapped his foot as he waited for someone to admit him. When the maid granted him entrance, the parson practically raced across the room and bowed deeply to his patroness.  

“Why did you keep me waiting so long, Mr. Collins? I sent for you early this morning.”

“Your pardon, Lady Catherine, I was out attending to duties and only just arrived home. I did not even stop to change as I have been so anxious to speak to you. Do you need my comfort and succor? How can I help you?”

“I need to know what has been going on since my incapacitation. Do you know when Anne went to town and in whose company she traveled?”

“I tried to counsel, Miss de Bourgh, about the company she was keeping, but she would not heed my words.”

“Why would my daughter need your advice? Her cousins were here to assist her in any way she needed.”

“That was the problem; she did not realize she was taking a snake to her bosom by inviting Miss Bennet to stay here with her. When I tried to tell her that Miss Elizabeth was attempting to steal Mr. Darcy from her, she said there was no engagement between her and her cousin and that she was pleased that Mr. Darcy found someone to love.” Mr. Collins hoped that Lady Catherine would not wonder why cousin Elizabeth need to leave his home, but the hope was short-lived.”

“Why would Miss Bennet need to stay at Rosings during her visit with you and your wife?”

“The vixen manipulated Mr. Darcy into believing that I harmed her and that she was not safe in my home.”

“Why did you not just send her home if she was causing trouble?”

“I tried, but Mr. Darcy intervened and said that Miss de Bourgh would welcome her at Rosings until time for her to depart.”

“With whom did my daughter travel to London?”

“Miss de Bourgh departed in Mr. Darcy’s carriage along with the colonel and my cousin.”

“This is all your fault,” cried Lady Catherine. “You brought that jezebel into our sphere and my home.”

“I had no way of knowing she would behave in such a manner.”

“You should have known that a woman who turned down a worthy proposal to a parson would cause others trouble as well. Now you shall make things right. I demand you go to London. You will take a letter that I give you to the newspaper announcing Darcy and Anne’s engagement, and you will ensure that she returns to me promptly. You need to leave in the morning; I will expect you and Anne to be back the day after tomorrow. In fact, I believe you should insist that Darcy return as well. Then you can read the banns beginning on Sunday. We shall have them wed in three weeks’.”

“But – but–Lady Catherine, how shall I make her come home. She ignored my advice before, what will make her listen now?”

“You will tell her that if she does not return, I will disinherit her.” Mr. Collins looked appalled at the words of his patroness. “You would do such a thing to your daughter.”

“If Anne refuses to return, then you are to go to the office of my solicitor and deliver to him a letter that I will prepare.”

“Y-y-y-yes, your ladyship. I will do as you say.” The parson again bowed low and backed towards the door. When be bumped into the wall, he nearly pitched forward on his face. Struggling to regain his balance, he wobbled through the door held open by the maid.

~~~~~~~

The night before the wedding found the Bennets, Gardiners, Darcys, and Charles Bingley gathered at Matlock House for a celebratory dinner. Two days after the wedding, those related to Lady Catherine would return to Rosings to deal with her lies. The earl and Andrew would deal with the legalities. Elizabeth would oversee the servants making the dower house ready for its new tenant, and the countess would help Anne with staffing and redecorating. Fearing the harsh words his aunt would hurl at Elizabeth, Darcy had tried to convince her that the others could deal with Lady Catherine, but she insisted on assisting her new friend. She knew that Charlotte would also be willing to help Anne and would be a good friend for her.

The group had an early dinner and said their goodnights sooner then the men would have liked. For ease of preparing everyone, Georgina, Elizabeth, and Jane would be spending the night at Matlock House with Anne. Andrew and Nicholas would be spending the night at Darcy House.

While Mrs. Gardiner and Lady Matlock spoke to Elizabeth and Jane and Anne respectively about what to expect on their wedding nights, the gentlemen retired to Darcy House for a game or two of billiards. As Andrew also married in the morning, they did not overindulge in liquor, a trick he would have attempted to play on his staid cousin had circumstances been different.

After two games, Darcy wished to retire. He stopped by the library to check on Mr. Bennet before making his way to his chamber. Once ready to retire, Darcy dismissed Clark, he sat beside the fire a brandy in his hand.

Darcy could not believe that all of his dreams would come true in less twelve hours. A restless excitement filled him, so he stood and moved to the door that adjoined the mistress’ chamber. Opening the door, Darcy looked about. Upon first inspecting the room, Elizabeth found everything perfectly acceptable. She could not envision wasting money to update the space. However, he wanted only the best for his beautiful Elizabeth, and Darcy decided to make some changes to refresh the room. Knowing the colors she favored, he had the walls done in pale yellow silk. Lovely fabric with a white trellis pattern on a pale blue background, showed a vine climbing the trellis and small clusters of yellow and blue flowers filled the picture framing on the walls around the room. The same fabric covered the settee before the fire. Flanking the sofa sat a pair of light blue and white striped chairs. A writing desk sat near one window and a deep yellow brocaded chaise lounge near the other. Dominating the room, a canopy bed sat between the two windows, a three-drawer nightstand on each side. Imagining her look of pleasure, Darcy closed the door and retired to bed, dreaming of his dearest, loveliest Elizabeth.

~~~~~~~

With the sun just breaking the horizon, one of Lady Catherine’s carriages arrived at the parsonage. Mr. Collins stumbled from the house, a small travel bag in his hands. As he reached the door, the footman handed him two letters addressed in Lady Catherine’s forceful, angular hand. He tucked them into his coat pocket before stepping into the carriage. Collins fell onto the bench as the driver slapped the reins and the horses jumped forward. He dreaded the trip and wondered what the consequences would be if he failed. The parson experienced great pleasure that he would deliver the letter announcing Mr. Darcy and Miss de Bourgh’s engagement as it would cause pain and embarrassment to his cousin.

Having a four-hour journey ahead of him, Mr. Collins settled into the corner of the carriage and soon emitted snores louder than the rattle of the vehicle. At the half-way point, the carriage stopped to change horses, and Mr. Collins took the opportunity to break his fast before continuing.

YOUR OPINION WANTED

I am making a few changes to some aspects of my writing.  I find the consistency of certain things comforting.  One of the changes I will be making is to Colonel Fitzwilliam’s Christian name.  I have previously used Richard, but it is not a name I am particularly fond of–it relates to childhood memories.  🙂  Consequently, I would like your opinion on a new first name.  Each of those chosen has special meaning to me.

THURSDAY’S THOUGHTS — 12/27/18

Thursday's Thoughts

Since it is after Christmas and New Year’s Eve is on the horizon, I am sharing another holiday song.  This one is performed by my teenage crush (so now everyone will be able to guess my age).  I hope you enjoy What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve? by Donny Osmond.

Wishing everyone a new year filled with happiness and dreams come true!

Linda

THURSDAY’S THOUGHTS — 12/20/18

Thursday's Thoughts

Today I am sharing a sketch of the Pemberley ballroom at Christmas time.  This scene was described in The Laughter of Love.  A dear friend made the sketch based on the following words:

The deep green silk wall covering was set into the elegant gilt molding.  Green velvet drapes adorned the windows.  Tonight these colors were enhanced with red and silver. Garlands of pine and holly tied in red ribbon trimmed all the doors and windows. The non-mirrored sections of the walls held large wreaths made from laurel leaves and accented in ribbons of silver and gold. Bouquets of red roses from the hothouses stood about on various tables, adding their color and fragrance to the décor.

 

Pemberley's Ballroom for the Christmas BallWishing you the happiest of holiday seasons–no matter what holiday you observe!