Darcy trimmed his pen after finishing the last of his correspondence for the day: he always liked to begin the day with a sharp quill, so it was his custom to ensure it was in good nick before straightening his papers and capping his ink at the end of each day's scribing. He looked at his desk, a place ordered to his needs as master of the estate, satisfied himself that there was nothing left requiring his attention, and stood, pushing back his heavy chair. A glance at the window assured him it was still only mid-afternoon, and bright sunlight tempted him out into the garden.
He sighed, stretched his arms and rolled his shoulders to relieve the ache from too many hours at his desk, before throwing open the French doors that led directly from his study onto the patio. He knew he would be the only one still indoors on such an afternoon, and had no need to inquire as to his wife's whereabouts: his Lizzy would be in the gardens - perhaps demurely seated under a shade as she worked on her own duties or attempted a sketch; perhaps gambolling about with a puppy or two and several small children. Either way, it would not take him long to locate her.
It was several hours since they had parted after breakfast. Their respective duties as master and mistress of so large an estate required a great deal of attention, and after five years of marriage, they no longer felt the compelling need to be in each other's company that had characterised the early days of their union.
Even so, Darcy felt that nigh on six hours was far too long without a glimpse of his beloved wife. He set out briskly towards her favourite spot - a sweeping lawn overlooking the lake and bordered by towering oaks on one side and a formal rose garden on the other. Although the presence of two balls and an abandoned cock horse on the lawn showed that it had recently been occupied, it was now silent, giving no clue as to where its denizens had gone next.
Undaunted, Darcy set off for the orchard, where he knew Elizabeth on occasion rewarded her followers with a freshly-picked apple at this time of year. Having run them to exhaustion in various games, she would wander under the laden branches of the apple trees, concocting outrageous tales of adventure and dispensing shiny red fruit to tide their young appetites over until dinner time. Once again, though, Darcy was to be disappointed.
The sound of laughter drew his attention back to the house, where he saw his son and daughter, Bingley's eldest girl and one or two of the household children being ushered indoors by Miss Pilbrow, the nanny. Mrs Darcy always made sure to include the servants' children in the fun and games, without giving undue distinction to any of them in particular. She would not raise her children too proud to be friends with those of other stations in life, but she nor would she repeat the mistakes of the past.
Clearly, the afternoon of outdoor fun had finished, but Elizabeth was nowhere in sight.
Darcy began to fret. After a tedious day of estate business, he relied on Elizabeth to cheer him back into good humour. He wanted her ready wit and teasing to remind him that there was more to life than ledger books and tenant disputes. Truth be told, he just wanted to be held in her arms, and to hold her in return. Yet when he wanted her, she was nowhere to be found.
Despite knowing his pique to be foolish, Darcy felt disconsolate as he set off at random through the gardens. If he could not have Lizzy by his side, he would try to walk off his grumpiness before going to visit his brood in the nursery. The children would cheer him - he always enjoyed their company - but it was not the same as being with Elizabeth.
His feet took him down the path beside the stream - a walk to the little bridge and back up the other side was just the right length to restore his good humour. Once determined on the path, he resumed his customary brisk pace, watching the stream closely for signs of trout.
He thought back to that day, a little over five years ago, when he had so unexpectedly encountered Miss Elizabeth Bennet on this very path. His life had seemed so desolate then: replete with regret and devoid of any prospect of future happiness. Yet one chance meeting, one honest conversation, and his life had been rewritten. He closed his eyes to offer his thanks to whatever spirits of the place had effected such felicity. (He laughed a little at himself - surely his cousin Collins would be appalled at the pagan heresy of thanking water sprites or forest elves when he should be directing his gratitude to God. Darcy was as good a Christian as his station required him to be, and he did not really believe in elves and such, but he had grown up among people of the land, and echos of the old beliefs wove their way through the fabric of his faith. He saw no contradiction in thanking those natural spirits the Lord had provided to help men along.)
When he opened his eyes, it was as if those spirits had conjured his greatest worldly desire, for there stood Elizabeth Darcy, a laughing smile on her lips and a twinkle in her eye. This very spot was where their second chance had started, and they had both seized it for all they were worth.
Much had happened since - three children born (though one had died in infancy); Bingley and Jane moving to a neighbouring estate; Mr Bennet dying of a seizure not seven months after their wedding; Mrs Bennet coming, with Kitty and Mary, to live in the dower house at Pemberley, only to beg to return to a cottage in Meryton within the year so that she could be closer to her sister and all her friends; Mary marrying and moving with her new husband to his parsonage in Wessex; Georgiana becoming engaged to Sir John Richards, a fellow of the Royal Society with whom she spent much time looking down microscopes and making meticulous drawings of insects; and Kitty publishing her first gothic novel, under the pen name George Ponsonby.
Yet in many ways Darcy felt just as he had that summer's day in oh-twelve, when he had stood dripping like a fish in front of this magnificent woman. He had quivered in anticipation, wondering what she would say, how she would weigh his worth in the palm of her hand, whether she would dispense forgiveness or disdain, how he could make amends for all his past errors. Now he knew that she had forgiven him, and, beyond his fondest expectations, had granted him her love: he was the luckiest man alive.
Darcy looked on Elizabeth's mischievous face, watched as one eyebrow quirked up in the infallible signal that she was about to tease him mercilessly, and felt joy blossoming in his chest. "By God, I love you, woman," he breathed fervently, effectively softening her gaze but not quite forestalling her tease.
"It is just as well, Mr Darcy," she replied, "for we would be in terrible pickle if you found me only tolerable."
With that, they took each other in their arms and shared a smouldering kiss before wandering slowly back towards the house where myriad duties awaited the master and mistress of Pemberley.
— fin —
Just a quick note to let you know that the complete story Encounter at Pemberley by Margaret Gale has now been published as an ebook on Kobo and Amazon.
I would also like to take this opportunity to thank you for coming along for the ride. I had no real plot outline when this began - some of you will remember that it started as a one-shot - and it has taken some twists and turns that even I did not expect. I would also like to say again how very much I appreciate all the feedback you have given me through your reviews, follows and favourites. It is heartening to know that you have enjoyed my humble offerings, and whenever I have flagged or suffered from writer's block, your encouragement and constructive criticism has given me the boost I needed to carry on.
A special thanks for those who have pointed out my errors - whether grammatical or historical. I hope I have fixed all the former, and have given serious consideration to all the latter. Sometimes, however, I have persisted with a minor historical inaccuracy for the sake of narrative flow. I hope the purists will forgive me!
I don't have any other tales ready to go, but there are a few plot ideas bubbling away that might just turn into new stories soon. If you want to be the first to know, then select "follow author" and you'll get an alert whenever I start a new story.
So farewell for now.