The honeymoon continues!
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.
“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?”
“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.
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.