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The Road Back - Chapters 42-44

January 29, 2015 08:29PM
Chapter 42

Tuesday June 15, 1813 - Pemberley


The morning’s post had been delivered and Elizabeth was overjoyed to find amongst those left at her place was one from Jane. “Oh, finally Jane has written!” And, with an apologetic look at her husband, she immediately broke the seal to unfold several sheets of closely written script. Darcy was not long left in uncertainty as to the contents as Elizabeth revealed Jane’s communication as she read.

“She and Amos are located in a comfortable apartment in Portsmouth…Amos is not to sail until June 17…he has no idea of where he is bound…sealed orders? I do not understand.” A questioning look was directed at Darcy who thought for a second before answering, “I believe that means the Captain does not know his destination until he sails at which time he opens a sealed packet with his orders. This ensures secrecy.”

“Ah, I see…well, that is the case here. Let me see, She quite likes Portsmouth…there are some comments on the shops and the quality of lace and ribbons with which I will not bore you…she will remove to London with the Gardiners when her husband sails…..she has visited the ship and met his officers…they came to dine one evening….seem like most gentlemanly men…she also wishes to help our aunt when the baby arrives….Oh! I am so glad….I can think of no better woman to be a mother…Amos is delighted…unhappy that he must leave her now.”

At her husband’s puzzled frown, Elizabeth explained with obvious pleasure, “Jane thinks that she is with child. It may arrive next January.” She returned her attention to the letter, “She found herself tired and frequently sick but did not recognize the signs at first….oh, dear, she has not told Mama yet….She fears her effusions when she does…she expects Mama to want her to live at Longbourn…I cannot think of a less delightful prospect. I hope she stays with our aunt….she expects that our mother will wish to attend her during her confinement….I detect a note of apprehension on that…I can well believe it. Our mother will not be a calming influence”

She returned her attention to the letter once more, “She told Mama about their purchase of an estate in Yorkshire….Mama was most upset that she would be so far away….could not understand why Amos would not purchase an estate near Longbourn…Mama has written her several times”, this with a rueful smile, “…as she has me…expressing her dismay at her lack of concern for her – Mama’s – nerves….I am glad to see that Jane is not acceding to our mother’s demands. Marriage has been good for her in that regard. She is no longer willing to let our mother impose her wishes on her.”

Elizabeth leaned back in contemplation, “I must write her immediately.”

Darcy smiled at his wife whose gaze appeared unfocussed, “On what are you thinking, Elizabeth? The pleasure of being an aunt?”

“No..well, not altogether, although that did cross my mind. No, I was envying Jane a little bit.” Seeing the puzzled look that appeared on her husband’s countenance, she grinned, “I am not inclined to wish for a child too soon since I am enjoying this time with only the two of us; but I confess to a small degree of envy that Jane has been so blessed.”


Thursday July 1, 1813 – Pemberley

Their time together at Pemberley had passed all too quickly for their liking. In later years, it would take on an almost idyllic quality. They would rise early in the morning for long walks before breaking their fast. Afterwards Elizabeth and Mrs. Reynolds would work together on the household accounts; or surveying the rooms to determine which need improvement. Mrs. Reynolds had been apprised of the guests that were expected during the summer; and she and Elizabeth had reviewed the suitability of the rooms to be assigned to each. Since there had been few visitors at Pemberley over the past number of years, some improvements were deemed necessary. As well, Elizabeth had thought to host several dinner parties over the summer and invite their neighbours to dine. Menus had to be prepared.

Of course, as with any couple comprised of two strong minded, independent individuals, differences of opinion were bound to arise. When it concerned literature, as an example, it was easily and amicably resolved; however, some issues admitted of a more difficult resolution. Such was the case when Elizabeth began to expand the range of her solitary walks. Accustomed as she was to wandering as she wished in the environs of Longbourn – keeping in mind that such could encompass a range of three miles or more – she gave little thought to doing likewise at Pemberley.

When she had ventured on an extended walk that Darcy, when he asked of her whereabouts, found it to have lasted some two hours and that she had not yet returned, his frantic concern exploded in anger when she was located ambling back to Pemberley about a half mile from the house. Immensely pleased with her walk, she was greeted still some distance from the house by a white-lipped, frantic Darcy. His first words were, as he realized in retrospect, unfortunate.

“What the devil do you mean by walking off by yourself!?”

Her response was surprisingly temperate, albeit tinged with considerable surprise, “I have always done so!”

“You are Mrs. Darcy. You cannot go wandering around like some country lass!”

“For your information, Mr. Darcy, I am a country lass!” Elizabeth could feel her choler rising to match Darcy’s. “Insufferable, arrogant man!” and, beginning to comprehend his anger, bit back further words and strode angrily towards the house, her stride stiff legged with anger, hoping the exercise might cool it.

Darcy was taken aback by her words and that she had stalked by him, anger revealed in each stride. He hurried to reach her side, wise enough to not attempt stopping her progress. They walked in silence until they entered the house. Elizabeth made directly for her sitting room, quite conscious of Darcy walking silently and, she thought, angrily beside her. When the door closed behind them, she felt his hand on her arm, stopping her and claiming her attention.

“Elizabeth, before you loose your ire on me, hear me out …please.”

He took her silence as consent, although the stiffness of her posture suggested those words had best be deserving of her forgiveness. “First, I apologize for the harshness with which I spoke to you. I should not have done so.” He could see her back start to relax and continued in an even gentler voice, “I was angry because I feared for your safety. You had been gone for more than two hours and no one had seen you or knew where you had gone. I feared something had happened and my fear fuelled my anger.”

“I do not appreciate the censure. That is what has angered me. To suggest my behaviour is somehow improper…I cannot accept that. I am a country lass and will remain so. I ….”

Darcy felt he had to interrupt, his voice caressingly soft, “Lizzy, you misunderstood me. I meant no censure. Only that you are my wife and I care deeply for your safety; and the staff here at Pemberley cares deeply for you also. We, none of us, want to see you harmed. As Mrs. Darcy, you are important to a great many people.”

Elizabeth turned slowly mollified by his concern, “I apologize for causing you such distress.” She stepped up to him and brushed a kiss on his cheek, “But, I did so enjoy the freedom that privacy allowed. It was the finest walk I have enjoyed in more than a year.”

“Elizabeth, you must realize the danger. The grounds of Pemberley are much wilder than Longbourn and you are not well known here. I do not know if there is much of a poacher problem in Hertfordshire but here, they have always been somewhat of a concern; but I was more afraid that you had tripped or had fallen and were lying hurt somewhere.” He led her over to the settee and sat with her on his lap, enclosed in his arms. “I could not bear to have you hurt because I was not there to protect you.”

“You cannot always be with me, William.” She looked at him closely, “and I would not wish to circumscribe my walks to when you can accompany me. Neither Georgiana nor Kitty can keep pace with me.”

“I would not wish to confine you so. In sight of the house, I have no concerns; but, knowing you as I do, you will not be satisfied with such. Am I not right?”

“You are indeed, William, nor can you expect me to be happily so constrained.”

The release of so much anger and worry was found in the comfort of a reconciliation which, as is not unusual with young married couples – and not infrequently by those not so young anymore – saw the happy couple ensconced in their bed for some little time and considerable pleasure.

Finally, rising and dressing, they wandered arm-in-arm downstairs and outdoors. Their perambulations led them into the flower garden behind the manor house. As they walked, they discussed means of affording Elizabeth the freedom to walk where she willed, while accommodating her husband’s concern for her safety. The result was a compromise – the first of many they would forge over the years – built on a mutual respect for the desires and needs of each. It was not a perfect solution – compromises never are – but, over the course of the years, the restrictions involved were more than compensated for by the satisfaction gained by them both. In essence, Elizabeth would attempt to schedule her walks when her husband was most likely to be free to accompany her and he, in his turn, would make attending her a priority unless there was an urgent need to do otherwise. When he was unable to accompany her, she would walk in company with a maid capable of keeping pace and would restrict the duration and direction of her walk.

~~~


Sundays were a special day given over totally, after church services, to enjoying their time together. They happily formed the habit of removing to the library to read together, perusing newspapers and catching up on personal correspondence. If the weather was fine, which it usually was by now, they might venture out for a ride to Lambton or Kympton, stopping at the inn in those villages for a bite to eat and to greet a few people. Elizabeth had come to know Alan Forsythe, rector of the Pemberley Chapel, quite well. He was a man of some fifty years and had been rector there for the last twenty of them; enjoying the confidence of the Darcy family; and well-beloved by those that attended his services, most of whom either worked at Pemberley or were tenant farmers. In the course of attending several services, Elizabeth had met and been welcomed by the families of most of the tenant farms.

It was from Mr. Forsythe that Elizabeth was able to discover which of the families were in need of particular assistance. Armed with this information, Elizabeth had gradually taken on the task of visiting tenant families and, to the extent possible, assuring herself of their well-being and providing assistance to those families in need of such. While she was thus engaged, Darcy would be dealing with the backlog of estate business that had accumulated over the past months. Their afternoons were given over to themselves; they took the opportunity to roam the park on horseback; and to make trips to the Peaks and to other scenic spots within easy riding distance. Not infrequently they would take a picnic meal with them and not return until dusk. If their clothing was marred by grass stains, it was not something on which Mrs. Reynolds permitted the staff to comment. Their evenings were spent together in quiet enjoyment, playing chess, reading, talking, Elizabeth’s playing on the pianoforte and the occasional game of billiards – the latter culminating in the now predictable manner. Their privacy, however, was about to end. Georgiana, Kitty and the Monteiths were due to arrive this very day.

As she sat down to break her fast that morning, Elizabeth was content that all her preparations were in hand. The arrival of an express post and a letter delivered to her while she sat drinking her tea could not help but raise concern. Opening the express first and beginning to read resulted in an emphatic “Oh my!” which captured Darcy’s full attention and a quick, “What is the matter?”

Before Elizabeth answered, she requested one of the waiting footmen to find Mrs. Reynolds to attend them immediately. Then, looking at her husband, she shrugged her shoulders responding, “Your Uncle and Aunt have decided to visit us along with Lord Fitzwilliam and his family for the next fortnight instead of simply coming for the few days around Georgiana’s party as they initially proposed.”

Interpreting the raised eyebrow of her husband correctly, Elizabeth was quick to reassure him but being a little uncertain as to whether additional activities would be necessary, addressed the issue to him and asked if he had planned any particular activities that his relatives would enjoy. After some thought, he mentioned that he expected the men might enjoy a fishing party, “Monteith is not an ardent fisherman but my uncle and cousin both enjoy the sport greatly. We have some excellent streams here and I can surely arrange for them to enjoy the sport…..they are also active riders and, if they have not brought mounts, I have several that would suit admirably. We might also arrange an excursion to Dove Dale.”

Elizabeth nodded and turned her attention to the letter which she then opened, “It is from my father. I hope there is nothing untoward at Longbourn? As she began to read a rueful smile appeared, “It appears that we are to receive two more unexpected guests. My father and Mary have invited themselves. Mama has gone to London to be with my Aunt who, I am sure, is less than perfectly delighted with such a visitor. Mama feels that Mary, an unmarried girl, should not be present and has sent her back to Longbourn. My father appears to think this an excellent opportunity to visit our library….oh dear, they will arrive later today also.”

Elizabeth began to consider how to deal with the extra guests and quickly concluded that no extra measures were called for. “My father will be quite content with our library and Mary with the company of Georgiana and Kitty. Papa has not written as to how long they plan to stay but I would not think them to be an imposition, even if they stayed for the whole summer.”

At this point, Mrs. Reynolds entered the room and was apprised of the extra guests. Mrs. Reynolds accepted the news with equanimity, “It will be well, Mrs. Darcy. It should take but a few hours to ready the extra rooms. I will inform Cook about the need to increase the menu. Shall we alter the arrangements?”

“Not for today, although the quantities might have to be increased slightly. I m not sure when my father expects to arrive but we shall meet with Cook to see what changes are required while they are here….the nursery is able to accommodate Lord Fitzwilliam’s children?”

“Yes Ma’am. It will be a treat to have children here at Pemberley.”

'It looks like the extra staff we are training will be helpful.” At Darcy’s puzzled look, Elizabeth explained further, “Our current staff is adequate to handle the normal number of people here but in August we will be hosting a much larger crowd. We need more footmen and maids and have taken on several more of each to train this month.”

Darcy nodded, “Ah, I see and, since we may be entertaining a bit more frequently, we will need the extra staff afterwards.”

Elizabeth smiled at Mrs. Reynolds, “Mrs. Reynolds brought it to my attention so the credit must be hers……..very well then. I will meet with you and Cook in an hour in your study.”

Darcy had listened with quiet satisfaction as Elizabeth had, without conscious thought, exercised her duties as Mistress of Pemberley. He could tell from Mrs. Reynolds’ demeanour that she had no qualms about being directed by and advising Elizabeth. Her smile of satisfaction as she bustled from the room to arrange for the readying of the required rooms was more than sufficient proof of her approbation of her Mistress. That Elizabeth had thought to publicly recognize and applaud her foresight was an additional cause for satisfaction.

~~~


Elizabeth and Darcy were warned that carriages had been sighted a quarter hour before they appeared on the road leading to Pemberley, which gave them sufficient time to be waiting to greet their guests as the carriages rolled to a stop. With a last silent exchange of looks, they braced their shoulders and prepared to meet their guests.

Georgiana was first out of the carriages and, displaying all the poise of a young lady, walked sedately towards them until about three paces away at which point she launched herself at Elizabeth - much to the latter’s surprise and disconcertment of her brother – hugging her fiercely, “Oh how I have missed you both and ….” She released a laughing Elizabeth and hugged her brother who grumbled teasingly, “Well, I know where I rank now.”

Kitty followed Georgiana and was quick to hug her sister before turning to curtsy to Darcy, “Mr. Darcy I am so pleased to have been invited. Pemberley is just….just magnificent.”

“Miss Catherine, we are now brother and sister are we not?” At her hesitant nod, he continued, “I shall call you Catherine or Kitty and you shall call me William or Brother. Agreed?”

“Yes, Mr. D…Brother.”

“Better. It will get easier, Catherine. I assure you.”

By now the rest of the carriages had been emptied and footmen were moving, as a well instructed team under the direction of Mr. Reynolds, to cart baggage to the appropriate rooms. The earl and countess approached their hosts, a somewhat apologetic expression on their faces. The earl spoke quickly, “We must apologize. I know we are imposing at short notice.”

Elizabeth was quick to respond, “That may be so but it does not follow that it is unwelcome. We are both pleased that you have come.”

The countess hugged her, saying, “We realize that you did not get much warning but my husband was so interested in seeing Pemberley – we have not been here for several years - that he insisted we come. I know we planned to come for Georgiana’s seventeenth birthday next week. We really wished for an opportunity to know you better. I hope you had ample warning.” The last was uttered with a little hesitation which turned to a slight dismay upon being told that their letter had only arrived that very morning.

Elizabeth, seeing her reaction, simply shook her head, “It is of no matter. That was ample time to make all the necessary arrangements.” And seeing a rather disbelieving look on the countess’s face, she answered, “Truly, it did. Mrs. Reynolds is a treasure. And we are delighted you have come. I am sure Georgiana is overjoyed that you will be here.” She then turned to greet Lord Fitzwilliam and Lady Elaine, “I am pleased that you both decided to come and that you brought your children. It has been some years, from what William tells me, since children have played at Pemberley.” She continued with a grin, “You are not the only unexpected guests. My father and my sister Mary will be arriving later today.”

She turned then to speak to them all, “We have held back dinner for an hour, expecting your arrival. Hot water has been sent to your rooms for you to refresh yourselves. We will dine at seven, if that is acceptable to you all?” Observing no sign of disagreement, she ushered them into the house. Stopping Lady Elaine before she left, she asked, “We would certainly not object should you wish to have the children join us for the meal.” Which, after a brief discussion with her husband, Lady Elaine found quite agreeable.

Turning to Georgiana and Kitty, Elizabeth took an arm of each and led them upstairs, “Come. I will show you to your room, Kitty. It is next to Georgie’s. I think you will be pleased with it.” As she ushered them upstairs, the two girls began to talk with animation about their trip. After leaving them to refresh themselves, Elizabeth returned to her own rooms to do likewise. She rather expected to find her husband there and to share some moments of intimacy with him. In this she was not disappointed and, if their demeanour when they ventured downstairs was such as to raise a discerning glance and a slight smile from his aunt, that lady was too well-bred and too pleased with the evidence of their attachment, to make any comment.

~~~


Dinner was just ending when Mr. Reynolds entered the dining room to advise Darcy that a coach had been sighted and would arrive in less than a quarter hour. Darcy stood and announced, “If you will excuse Elizabeth and me, our remaining guests will be arriving shortly. Please carry on. Aunt, perhaps you could show the ladies to the drawing room.”

Darcy and Elizabeth were just exiting the house when the carriage came to a stop. Mr. Bennet was first to step down, turning to help Mary descend; they both stretched to relieve the cramps from the long carriage ride before moving to greet their hosts. Elizabeth stepped forward to hug her sister who whispered, “This is so grand, Lizzy. I can hardly credit it.” At the same time Mr. Bennet clasped hands with Darcy saying, “I know we are imposing on you but the opportunity to ensure that you were taking care of Lizzy was too good to ignore.” The sardonic look in his eye only earned a smile from Darcy although Elizabeth interjected, “Papa, you are a shameless opportunist. You are only here because you deem your library deficient in comparison to that of Pemberley.”

“Unfortunately, I believe that to be all too true Lizzy….on both charges.”

“Come Papa, Mary. I believe you will wish to refresh yourselves after your travel. Hot water for a bath will be sent to your rooms shortly. We have just finished dining but I will arrange for a tray to be sent to your rooms.” As she spoke, Elizabeth led them into the house, while around them footmen carried their baggage up to their rooms. Turning to Darcy, Elizabeth suggested that he return to their guests while she escorted her father and sister to their rooms. As she led them both up the stairs, they spoke comfortably about the trip and the circumstances that led them to make it. Once Elizabeth had reached their rooms, she could see that they both were rather tired and suggested that it would not be taken amiss if they decided to remain in their rooms until the next morning. This was acceptable to both and she took her leave - promising them a tour of the house after breakfast which had been arranged for the other guests – and rejoined her guests in the drawing room.


Chapter 43

Wednesday July 14, 1813 – Pemberley


Darcy could look back on the past two weeks with much satisfaction and look forward, with considerable relief, to the fact that the next fortnight would allow him to enjoy Elizabeth’s company to a much greater extent than had been possible while the Matlocks were visiting. Their departure early this morning, meant that their only visitors were Elizabeth’s two sisters and Mr. Bennet. The latter was so comfortably ensconced in the library as to be virtually invisible; while Elizabeth’s sisters and Georgiana, being much of an age, had found endless sources of amusement without reference to anyone else.

The Matlock visit had been pleasurable. Their avowed purpose, to attend and enjoy Georgiana’s birthday, had, if they were to be believed, met all of their expectations. That day had been excessively warm and it was fortuitous that Elizabeth had planned a picnic down by the pond. A canopy protected them from the sun and a day of activities was planned culminating in a special event once darkness fell. The ladies had enjoyed playing paille-maille on the expanse of lawn fronting the pond and even the gentlemen had been convinced to participate. However, the gentlemen did extract a promise on the part of the ladies to join them in a simple cricket game much to the amusement of all. Even Lord Matlock was induced to play and showed that his skills as a bowler had diminished only slightly with age. The two young Fitzwilliam children – Harold and Judith, of seven and 5 years of age respectively – were delighted to be included. The Bennet sisters and Georgiana had paid them particular attention and engaged them in games and activities, only desisting when it was time for them to sleep. The evening continued quite warm and their evening meal was served under the pavilion. Somewhat tired from their exertions, everyone was content to rest and converse quietly as darkness slowly fell.

His aunt and uncle were as relaxed as ever he had seen them. While content to sit on chairs whilst the younger members of the party sprawled or sat on blankets spread on the lawn, they appeared to be thoroughly happy as they murmured together and casting amused glances at the others. Darcy himself was sprawled on the blanket with Elizabeth sitting beside him, her feet tucked in under her dress and her thoughts very obviously elsewhere.

Softly, as not to gain anyone else’s attention, he whispered, “Elizabeth, where do your thoughts roam?”

For a few moments he thought she had not heard him and was going to repeat his question when, she turned to look at him with a slight upturn on her lips, “I was but thinking of picnics I shared with my family at Longbourn when I was a child.”

“Did your family picnic often?”

“In the summer, yes. Quite often - usually on a Sunday after church.” She paused and her eyes took on that abstracted look once more. Around them everyone else had fallen silent as she began to reminisce with a slight laugh in her voice. “We were a lively bunch, you see. Five daughters and a very lively mother. My poor father. I dare say, his library looked very appealing afterwards, but he did not desert us. The picnics I remember best were when I was about ten and Jane only twelve. Lydia was the youngest at five. This was before it became clear that it was not likely there would be a son to break the entailment. My mother was lively, not frantic and worried which changed her so much. Quite frequently we would invite a neighbouring family to join us – most often the Lucas family – and merry we would make indeed. Our picnics would be out in the garden behind the house. Trestle tables would be set up to hold the food. My mother loved to entertain and would always try to outdo herself. With so many children, we could play and chase each other, play games while our parents sat under shade trees and watched us. Looking back, I suspect that their enjoyment drew as much from the wine consumed as it did from watching us children. It was amongst the happiest times I can remember as a child.”

Drawing her thoughts back to the present, she looked at her husband, “And you, Mr. Darcy. Did you not picnic?” the slight challenge in her voice was unmistakeable.

Before he could marshal his thoughts, the earl interjected, “I find your family’s idea of a picnic … interesting, Mrs. Darcy. My father would have been appalled by it and horrified at how it was done today. I find I am not in agreement with him. I have much enjoyed this day.” The earl began then to reminisce about picnics that he remember when visiting Pemberley while his sister was alive. Georgiana came over and sat at her aunt’s feet listening to him and to her aunt’s occasional contributions and promptings.

When the earl seemed to be getting close to a maudlin stage, Darcy took up the thread of conversation and chose to respond to the question Elizabeth had raised. "I remember that we held picnics quite frequently when my mother was alive, and almost always down here by the pond. My father loved them and my mother humoured him, I suppose. From his comments that I can recall, I suspect she found them to be…slightly uncomfortable. Perhaps she simply wasn’t used to them as a child.” nodding at his uncle, “I suspect my father of teasing her a bit by holding them.”

“When she died, my father did not…he seemed to lose all interest in such…” he paused and Elizabeth could see him consciously take his thoughts away from such memories. When he continued, it was in a deliberately happier tone, “Georgiana and I probably picnic several times every summer, particularly when we have guests.”

Georgiana piped in, “But not when the Bingleys were visiting!” her laugh drew a grin from Darcy, “No, definitely not when Miss Bingley was here.”

At Elizabeth’s questioning look, he smirked, “We held a picnic once when she and Bingley and the Hursts were visiting. Right here, in fact. Unfortunately, the day was quite warm, there was a breeze to disturb one’s hair, there were insects flying around, birds were making a racket – I am trying to recall if there was anything that she did not dislike.”

“She was not unhappy that you were there, Brother!” Georgiana’s tease drew a burst of laughter from everyone, including Darcy whose only comment was, “Poor Miss Bingley.”

Elizabeth could see it was time to turn people’s attention to the reason for the picnic, “I think it is time we embarrass my new sister and shower her with presents.” Saying which, she rose and walked to a table covered by a white cloth which she removed. Selecting a gaily wrapped package, she handed it to Georgiana before returning to sit by her husband. Everyone was quick to follow her example and soon the pile of presents had been transported from the table to be piled in front of Georgiana.

Embarrassed at being the focus of everyone’s attention, she found herself overwhelmed by the variety of gifts she received; A new ball-gown from the Matlocks, jewelry from Lord Fitzwilliam and his wife, a copy of Sense and Sensibility from Elizabeth, sheet music from Mary, a book of poetry from Mr. Bennet, a personal sketch from Kitty and a diamond necklace from Darcy which had been his mother’s.

Elizabeth could see that Georgiana was almost overwhelmed by the attention she was receiving but that she was able to retrieve her composure quickly. Waiting until there occurred a brief quiet, Georgiana, with some hesitation and then increasing confidence, albeit accompanied by a most appealing blush, addressed them all, “First, I must thank each and every one of you for these marvellous gifts. I cannot remember a more enjoyable birthday. Truly I cannot.”

She turned our gaze on her brother, “Then I must thank – what a totally inadequate word that is – my brother for gifting me with the most wonderful sister.” Facing Elizabeth, she enveloped her in her arms and with teary eyes, continued, “From the moment we met, she has made my life happier, and…” looking at Kitty and Mary, “…gifted me with two more sisters that I have come to know and love dearly.”

She paused for a moment before continuing, “The truly wonderful thing is that I can now view the upcoming London season with much less trepidation than I did even six months ago. I cannot explain why, but it is so.”

By this time, the sky had completely darkened and Darcy rose to command their attention, “I have a special treat planned which will begin shortly. Some of you have been wondering what those rafts are out in the lake. I can now tell you or rather….” Looking at his pocket watch under a canopy lamp, “…show you.” Moments later, a steak of light ascended into the night sky and then their ears were assaulted by a sound akin to a gunshot, only much louder, followed by a burst of colour as, high above their heads, the rocket burst. For a half hour the assault on their ears continued albeit with diminishing impact as they grew accustomed to the noise - as the sky was rent by a myriad of colours. Even Elizabeth, who had been forewarned about the fireworks, had initially sought refuge and comfort within her husband’s arms as the display began. There she remained, more for comfort than refuge, as the show continued. When it was complete, the exclamations of pleasure from all were more than sufficient to convince Darcy that it was worth repeating in the future.

~~~


Elizabeth had been uneasy about how well her father and Mary would be received by the Fitzwilliam family. The earl, she knew, was sufficiently quick of mind to realize he was the object of her father’s wit, should the latter decide to exercise it on him. She could no more expect her father to restrain such exercise should the opportunity arise, than expect the sun to rise in the west. Fortunately, the earl was not inexperienced in dealing with country gentlemen such as Mr. Bennet; and the latter was so bemused by the library that he had little attention to spare for other amusements such as tweaking a somewhat arrogant earl or his equally arrogant son. As a consequence, they were in each other's company but rarely and, when such an unhappy event did occur, Mr. Bennet’s contentment with his situation was such as to render him less acerbic than was his usual wont.

Mary, she had thought, would be glad of the company of Georgiana and Kitty; and, indeed she was. Her retiring nature fit well with that of Georgiana, with whom she shared a love of music. Georgiana’s technical competence she quickly found to be superior to her own; but it was a gentle and tentative suggestion by the younger girl about the type of music she played, that had the most profound effect. No one had really impressed upon Mary that the real purpose of performing was to provide pleasure to her listening audience and that technical superiority was a poor substitute for music that did not entertain. Elizabeth had noticed a small improvement after only a few short weeks and wondered at her own inability to have prompted such a change. As it was, Georgiana and Mary had, between them, managed to charm everyone with pianoforte duets and their solo efforts in the evenings. The other aspect of her sister’s character that she had dreaded was Mary’s ability to interject biblical homilies at the most inopportune times and, while this trait had been somewhat tempered by the events of the past year, it had not been eradicated altogether. Fortunately, Mary had been sufficiently impressed by the consequence of the Fitzwilliams as to be reluctant to venture any opinions whatsoever in their presence.

Mrs. Reynolds had not been slow to express her delight with the incursion of guests and, in opposition to her master, was very much anticipating the even larger number that were expected the following month. As she succinctly expressed to Elizabeth one morning, “Pemberley, in my opinion, has entertained much too little over the past ten years or more.”

Shaking her head at the sad memories involved, she reminisced, “Ever since the death of Mrs. Darcy, the Master’s mother, there have been few such activities and those that have occurred, involved only a very small number of guests.”

Elizabeth smiled, “I believe that is changing.”

“For the better, in my opinion, Mrs. Darcy. The dinner that you held for our neighbours provided excellent training for the extra staff that we hired. I think your suggestion to have Darcy House send several of its staff to Pemberley to assist, when the Darcy families are visiting next month, will prove provident.”

The dinner itself had been flawless. Five of the most notable families in the area had been invited to dine with the company already present. They had come to acquaint themselves with the new Mrs. Darcy and, she realized, to assess her performance as hostess. They had left content in the knowledge that Pemberley was once more to be a presence in Derbyshire society. It was agreed by them all that Mrs. Darcy was everything that was amiable, beautiful and interesting and none had been left in any doubt of her husband’s affections. Mrs. Reynolds had observed the pride with which the Master had beheld his wife as she moved effortlessly to ensure the comfort and pleasure of their guests. The only thing that was lacking, she thought, were children and she suspected that lack would be of short duration.

Darcy was particularly happy to see his uncle’s gradual thawing towards Elizabeth. He could not be sure that either would ever be entirely comfortable in the other’s company but his uncle’s demeanour was much more relaxed. As Elizabeth had acknowledged, “I no longer feel as though I am under constant scrutiny.” When Lord and Lady Matlock departed, the earl had taken his leave of Elizabeth saying, “I believe my nephew has chosen his wife wisely, Mrs. Darcy. Our stay here has been quite enjoyable and we hope to return the favour by having you visit us in the near future.”

Elizabeth had simply nodded and replied, “Thank you, your Lordship. It will be a pleasure.”

The earl looked at Elizabeth for a few moments before apparently coming to a decision. His next words caught Elizabeth quite by surprise, “I think you must call me Uncle Henry from now on and I shall call you Elizabeth.”

Elizabeth’s surprise elicited a small wintry smile from the earl, “I assure you, Elizabeth, you will get used to it.”

“I will try Your…” At the earl’s raised eyebrow, Elizabeth rolled her eyes and laughed, “…Uncle Henry.”

“Better! Much better!”

The countess stepped towards Elizabeth and embraced her, whispering in her ear, “Welcome to the family.” Releasing Elizabeth, she bestowed a kiss on Darcy’s cheek and, taking her husband by the arm, entered the carriage to return to their home.

Having seen his guests off, Darcy had removed to his study and was sorting through the letters which had been placed on his desk. Reynolds had already separated out those for the other residents including one for Mr. Bennet. Now he, Darcy, must sort his own into business and personal letters. Today there were only three of the latter – including one from his Aunt Juliana in Cornwall which likely had to do with their planned visit in August. Bingley had also written, but it was the third letter that was of most interest. It was from James Simpson. It was addressed to Darcy House in London and sent on to Pemberley by express. He wasted no time in opening the letter and, having scanned it quickly, immediately opened the door to his study to request a passing maid to find Mrs. Darcy and have her attend him in his study. As he waited for Elizabeth to arrive, he read the letter once more - slowly.

Kingston, Upper Canada
May 17, 1813

Dear Sir,

I fear you must have begun to despair of receiving any communication from me. I can only plead that circumstances have been such as to prevent an earlier response. I hope that the explanation which follows satisfy such concerns as you may have.

The voyage from London to Halifax took some five weeks. We were fortunate as to the winds and neither Miss Lydia nor I were poor sailors, a circumstance that many of the other passengers could not claim. Once landed in Halifax it became a concern as to how to reach our destination. The route most favoured during the winter was through the United States. We could, of course, not avail ourselves of that route; and we perforce had to wait in Halifax for the St. Lawrence River to unfreeze. It might have been possible to travel by sleigh up the river but I did not want to risk such a venture. We left Halifax on April 23, since the river appears to have thawed somewhat earlier than was usual. We arrived in Montreal a fortnight later to be told that troops from the United States had invaded Upper Canada. We were advised that it was reasonably safe to travel as far west as Kingston and there we did go, arriving some ten days later, travelling by sleigh the whole distance.

Once in Kingston we learned that the United States Army had burned York with most of the population having fled east to Kingston. Among them was your agent, Mr. Alcock, whom we encountered by accident. Once informed of your wishes as contained in the letter we provided, things were speedily resolved. Miss Lydia and I were married a fortnight later in Kingston. The letter to her parents was posted at the same time as the one you now hold. I can only assume both letters will reach their destination similarly. Given that the marriage took place in Kingston rather than York, we have re-written the letter to her parents accordingly.

Our plans are now to continue on to York as soon as it may be safe to do so. Mr. Alcock proposes to travel with us and will assist in locating a workable farm or acquiring such land as might be available. With the destruction that has resulted from the hostilities, I surmise that the chance of acquiring a good farm, from someone discouraged by such hostilities, to be quite good. The one enduring memory of our trip so far, is the vastness of this country. We have spent but a month of travel to reach Kingston and would require several more to reach the western boundary. It is vastly different from England or Scotland, with settlements widely scattered and travel dangerous, not because of brigands or animals, but from the ice and snow. There is a vast amount of land and few people to work it. I cannot but see this as a great opportunity for myself and the family that we hope to create.

I will write further when we arrive in York and have more information to impart. I would add that Miss Lydia – now Mrs. Lydia Simpson – seems content in the marriage and that I have had no cause to repine.

Your obedient servant,
James Simpson


By the time he had read the letter twice more, Elizabeth had entered the room concerned that some matter of urgency had arisen. Upon being told to shut the door, she did so and came to stand at Darcy’s shoulder. He passed her the letter saying only, “From James Simpson – finally.”

Taking the letter, Elizabeth walked over to the chair by the fireplace to read it in comfort. After several minutes, Darcy joined her and sat opposite in the other chair. Finally she looked up at him, “I take comfort that Lydia is finally married and seems not unhappy. Are they in any danger?”

“I do not really know. From what I can determine, Kingston should be safe enough since it is the main army and navy centre.”

“I suspect that a letter should be arriving for my father shortly.” At Darcy’s quiet nod, Elizabeth released a sigh, “I cannot help but admit to a certain degree of comfort that Lydia is finally married. To my shame, I also concede a certain satisfaction that she is separated from us by an ocean and is not likely to embarrass us further.”

Darcy smiled, “I believe your father is planning to encourage Mrs. Bennet to visit them as soon as may be.”

“Oh, Papa.” Elizabeth was pensive for a few moments before continuing, “Thank you for sharing this with me. I am easier in my mind. Now, the day is beautiful and I have no hostess duties to speak of. A brisk, long walk is my wish. Can I entice my very handsome husband to accompany me?” Saying which she rose and held out her hand.

Darcy looked over his desk. There was nothing of immediate concern and he had little desire to deal with anything else. “If I am not imposing myself on you, I would desire nothing more than to walk with you.” Moving to take her offered hand, he let her lead him from the room.

“You, sir, are never an imposition.”

~~~


The letter that arrived for Mr. Bennet was indeed from his youngest daughter. Since Mr. Bennet had, for the most part, forgotten her existence, the letter had caused him some surprise. She had long been the least favourite of his children; and her absence more a blessing than otherwise, given the diminution in noise at Longbourn that was the fortuitous result.

Recognizing her hand, he had little doubt of the contents and while his usual preference would have seen the letter placed on the pile of correspondence that he would read at some later date, in this instance he chose to open and peruse it directly.

Kingston, Upper Canada
May 17, 1813

Dear Papa,

I hope this letter finds you and Mama well. I have news of some import for my family. As my last letter imparted, Mr. Wickham and I planned to travel to the Canadas to settle there. We reached York before Christmas and decided to settle there for the nonce. However, a great misfortune occurred. My dearest George ventured out with a few friends one evening and failed to return that night. I did not discover what happened for two days. George was most shabbily treated by his friends who plied him with strong drink and left him to find his own way home. The constables here say he must have fallen asleep and died of the cold. No one found his body for two days. I am sure that there is some great carelessness on someone’s part, for how could such a thing happen?

Fortunately, I had sufficient funds left that I was able to live comfortably, although I did not know what I should do with myself. While York is a dreary place, the society is quite lively and I was able to dance several times. I do not like mourning clothes and not being able to be out in society is too dreary for words. I was enjoying meeting several handsome young men when I had to flee York along with most everyone else because an army from the United States burned York. Why ever would they want to burn such a dreary place, I cannot understand? Anyway, I was able to find a means to travel east to Kingston where most of us stopped. While there I met a Mr. James Simpson who is so very handsome and has five thousand pounds to buy an estate in Upper Canada. He is unmarried and was looking for a wife. After courting me for several weeks, he made an offer of marriage and I accepted. We were married two days ago and plan to travel back to York now that it is safe to do so. I am surprised to admit that I found Mr. Simpson’s company much preferable to that of George. I think we will be quite content together.

I will write further when we have settled permanently in one place.

Your Daughter
Lydia Simpson.


To his amazement, Lydia’s letter also contained a short missive from his new son-in-law which he read with no little enjoyment.

Kingston, Upper Canada
May 17, 1813

Dear Mr. Bennet,

Let me begin by offering a humble apology for not seeking your consent before marrying your daughter. I can only plead the exigencies of our situation that prevented me from doing so. Be assured, sir, of my utmost respect for you and your responsibilities as her father but, separated as we are by months of travel and cognizant of our need to settle and establish a household, I did not see how I could do otherwise than offer to marry your daughter as soon as was possible.

I hold your daughter in the utmost respect and affection and I have every reason to believe she holds me in similar esteem. I am possessed of sufficient monies – some five thousand pounds - as to be able to purchase a sizeable property and construct decent accommodation upon it. I make no pretence that it is comparable to a property in England but I have every hope that, with diligence and hard work, we might be able to attain modest affluence.

I wish – or rather, hope – that you will extend your support and blessing to our union. Despite the manner in which this marriage has been undertaken, I have not treated your daughter with anything less than the strictest propriety. I know that she joins with me in desiring your blessing on our marriage.

I cannot, in good conscience, suggest when we will be able to return to England. It is quite possible that we both will end our days here. I will endeavour to keep you and your family apprised of events in our life. My wife informs me that she is an indifferent letter writer so I suspect that burden will fall on me. It is one that I willingly assume. I cannot, as yet, provide an address to which any letters may be directed but I would hope to be in a position to do so within the next few months.

Most Sincerely,
James Simpson


Mr. Bennet took some few minutes to consider this news before venturing forth to impart to his daughters, the intelligence which they contained. He would urge Lizzy to write Mrs. Bennet to apprise her and the other inhabitants of Gracechurch Street of the tidings from Lydia. He had little doubt that his wife would not delay to write her Sister Philips to impart the good tidings and that it would be known throughout Hertfordshire shortly thereafter.


Chapter 44

Thursday July 29, 1813 – Vitoria, Spain


It was blessedly quiet for a change. The staff had moved out and he was, for the most part, alone with several orderlies and two other wounded officers. It was difficult to be thankful for being wounded but he could take some comfort in his surroundings. He was not lying in some fly-ridden tent with twenty other wounded, crying and moaning in their pain. He, by virtue of his exalted rank of Colonel – which caused a mental snort from him - had been brought back to his quarters which had the not unappreciated benefit of being quiet, clean, and dry. Of course, his rank did not prevent the slash of a sabre which, only by the grace of God and a frantic block by his own sabre, buried itself in his arm instead of his body. Only the quick reaction of one of his soldiers, to kill the French cavalryman, had prevented a second and most probably a killing blow. Nevertheless, if the surgeon was correct, his arm, fortunately his left arm, would not be lost but he was unlikely to recover its full use. He was fortunate to be alive. He had bled freely and it was some few minutes before his orderly had realized the severity of the wound and staunched the flow of blood. He remembered little of the following fortnight due to his blood loss and subsequent fever.

Even now, a month after being wounded, he could barely lift the arm and his ability to grasp anything was limited. His days as an active field officer appeared to be over. No one had said as much, but he was expecting to be invalided home soon – at least that was the opinion of his surgeon on his last visit. Fortunately, he would not be carried on the ship but could walk, albeit shakily, on his own feet. And as his thoughts skittered around the idea that his military career could be over, he heard the door of his room open and Corporal James entered, bearing a letter.

“A letter for you, Sor”

“Thank you, Corporal. Just place it beside me.”

“Yes, Sor! I will be bringing up dinner in an hour.” With which he made a casual survey of the room, picked up the chamber pot to be emptied, tidied a few items on the table by the bed, and, before Colonel Fitzwilliam could tell him to stop fussing about, made an expeditious exit.

Fitzwilliam smiled - James was a fuss-budget, but an excellent orderly. He looked at the letter and easily recognized the handwriting as that of Darcy.

Darcy House
May 8, 813

Richard,

I truly hope this finds you well. I think it safe to assume that, by the time this letter reaches you, the army will be moving against the French. Please keep that ugly carcass of yours in one piece; I plan to win many more billiard games and Georgiana is expecting you to dance with her in her season. She was most eager to send her regards and admonishment for your safety when she learned I was to write you. Consider yourself admonished.

I consider myself the luckiest man in the kingdom. Miss Elizabeth Bennet will become my wife in less than a fortnight. There were a few obstacles to overcome, but all is well. I will relate the particulars when next we speak. I called on Elizabeth whilst she was in London and was groomsman for Captain Amos Stovall who married Miss Jane Bennet in late February. I invited the Stovalls and Elizabeth to accompany Georgiana and myself to Pemberley for several weeks to break their trip to Yorkshire to visit Captain Stovall’s relatives there. Whilst there, Elizabeth and I had the opportunity to resolve those issues that separated us; and also to get to know each other much better.

I proposed in mid March and wrote her father for his approval. Elizabeth, Georgiana and I accompanied the Stovalls to York. Georgie and I stayed with Bingley while there. It was a most illuminating trip and Bingley continues to mature. He is very much his own man now.

In mid April Elizabeth, Georgie and I travelled back to London, stopping briefly, on the way, at Elizabeth’s home in Hertfordshire to meet her parents. We then proceeded to London where she is staying with her aunt and uncle. I am in her presence as much as possible. I won’t bore you with effusions of delight. I am besotted and gladly acknowledge the fact. I have never known such happiness and contentment. Georgie finds equal pleasure in her company and I believe that she is as close to Elizabeth now as if they had been born sisters. I can already observe such improvement in her manner as to leave me confident that she will do well when she comes out, which we anticipate will be this fall during the short season.


“The man is besotted!”

I informed your father and mother about the engagement shortly after returning to London. I will not hide from you that your father‘s initial reaction was of extreme displeasure. I sense that he expected to be asked to consent to the match rather than simply to have been informed of it. My aunt was not slow to prevent either of us from saying something we would later regret. I did make it clear that I would marry Elizabeth regardless of their approval which, I must suppose, had somewhat to do with your father’s reluctant approval which he gave before I left. Your mother was more welcoming although she obviously had some reservations.

Elizabeth and I dined with your parents several days later and it appears to have gone very well indeed. Your father has publicly supported the engagement while your mother invited Elizabeth and her aunt to tea a day or so later. It was, I believe, quite successful and the ladies including Georgie and your sister, Frances, have shopped for wedding clothes for Elizabeth. As Elizabeth intimated to me later, it was as much a public endorsement as a shopping expedition and apparently both endeavours were successful.

Our Aunt Catherine, however, is a much different story. I fully expected her to behave poorly and was not disappointed, although her actions were a great embarrassment. Not content to disparage Elizabeth in a letter to me, she also wrote Elizabeth. Fortunately, Elizabeth agreed to the destruction of that letter – unopened. I would not have her so insulted. Our aunt was not content to confine her displeasure to the written word but paid a visit to Elizabeth’s family, meeting with her father. After failing to persuade him to cancel the engagement, she attempted to pay – bribe – him to do so. I found all this out as he wrote Elizabeth immediately following the meeting. From the tone of his letter, he found our aunt rather ridiculous – a conclusion which I cannot fault, and echoed by your father when advised of his sister’s actions. Suffice to say, I have since advised our aunt that she is not welcome at my houses until such time as she has apologized to Elizabeth. I dare say it may be some time before that happens. My only regret is that Anne will be left even more alone. I could wish that she could be induced to visit your parents.


Fitzwilliam shook his head, “Our aunt is nothing if not predictable. She wants what she wants because she wants it and no one else’s wants are worth considering.”

I will not bore you with further expressions of my happiness. Once you have returned to England, you must visit us at Pemberley for as long as you may wish. Until then, may God keep you safe.

FD


“So Miss Lydia’s problems are not an impediment? Darce did not write to tell me how that was resolved. I suspect there is a good reason for the omission. Well, he will not be able to evade the issue when I return.” Fitzwilliam’s mien became stern, “I hope he has not placed Georgie’s prospects in jeopardy.” He thought for a few moments, “No, I suspect that whatever he has done, it has been done with due care. I must trust that his judgement is sound and he was not persuaded to rashness due to his interest in Miss Bennet.”

Fitzwilliam folded the letter and placed it his trunk. He thought to write a reply but decided it was probable that he would return to England by the time a letter arrived. It was time for his daily walk. Calling for his orderly, he walked slowly down the stairs and outdoors. Today he thought he might try to walk as far as the bridge – his strength was slow to return. The loss of blood, and the fever that accompanied his wound, had greatly weakened him. The surgeon was reluctant to let him return home until he was stronger. Suddenly, he found a fierce desire to return to his home and family. He could recuperate there as easily and with more comfort than here in Spain. He must persuade the surgeon to let him travel. As he walked, he began to consider what a future might look like should he be forced to retire. He knew his financial position. It was not poor. He could live in reasonable comfort – a wife, he doubted. His income – from his half- pay and investments - was not sufficient to support a wife in anything approaching the comfort that a woman with whom he might attach himself would require. While he did not actually require the £50,000 that was mentioned by Miss Bennet, he probably could not offer marriage to a woman unless she had a dowry of £20,000. With this rather gloomy thought, he collected his orderly and departed for his exercise.
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The Road Back - Chapters 42-44

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