With the Harvest ball now just weeks away, Elizabeth had been very busy getting everything in order. The last three weeks had been a tumultuous affair on everyone in Pemberley's emotions. Georgiana and Elizabeth were now closer than anyone could imagine a pair of sister-in-laws being and Darcy was, at times, a little jealous.
"Brother- please. Richard said I can go and, after all, he is my other guardian."
Georgiana had been pleading with her brother for three days and was making one more valiant attempt. In Darcy's mind the logic was quite clear. She was not in society, therefore she could not go, it was completely inappropriate and, indeed, he was furious at his wife and cousin for telling his sister that she may attend.
"Richard may be your other guardian but this is not his ball. I understand you have put hours of work into helping Elizabeth plan this event but it is simply out of the question. If you applied yourself anywhere as diligently on your language skills as you do in pestering me to go, you might have some ground to stand on. However, in the last weeks Mrs. Annesley has informed me that your French has been atrocious and your Greek nothing more than absurd."
Georgiana blushed furiously at his disappointment.
"What if I added three hours each day to my studies?" she pleaded.
"Apply yourself because you want to learn and gain intelligence and knowledge – not for a ball and then come to me. Until then my answer is a firm no and you would do well to not ask again." Darcy never meant to be this rash but he was not in the mood to hear his young sister beg to go to a ball. She was far too young.
Georgiana was severely disappointed and slumped out of her brother's study. She immediately sought out her companion and applied herself and the rest of the afternoon conjugating French.
Darcy was increasingly busied, tired, and irritable as the harvest drew near, as it seemed that there were far fewer crops than in previous years. A weeklong dry spell had affected many of the tenants so much so they were having trouble with their own expenses. He was very lenient and preferred they take of themselves before worrying about the needs of the farm as a whole. However, it could not go unseen that it was looking to be a dismal year at best. He had no need to worry about the income – he could go fifty years without a harvest and his daily life would not change for want of comfort. However, he worried constantly about his tenants, for it was their livelihood at stake.
Lizzy, and indeed all of Pemberley, was feeling the brunt of Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy's lack of liveliness.
Georgiana remained in her room for supper and made it quite clear they would see very little of her in the coming weeks as she felt a very sudden and urgent need to improve her mind with extensive study. The Army's new General Richard Fitzwilliam found himself called away to a nearby county on business but would return within the week. This left Elizabeth and William with some much anticipated, and needed, privacy.
At supper Fitzwilliam's exhaustion and worry was evident on all parts of his countenance and his annoyance at every little thing was soon wearing on his wife, as well. The second course was brought out and a footman stumbled on the long carpet in the dining room. Peter, a long time servant in Pemberley, recovered his misstep without spilling, but Darcy's reaction caused him to drop the entire platter.
"For God's sake can nothing be done on this estate without instruction? Clean it up and remove yourself from this house at once!" Darcy's voice rose and he stood from the table and stormed out.
Elizabeth was absolutely horrified by his reaction and made sure he heard her response before he left. Addressing the young footman she said, "Leave it, please, Peter. I will bring it to the kitchen to Mrs. Jackson. Please disregard what the master said and go enjoy your own supper."
The young man was at a loss and looked to Darcy for confirmation that he would remain in their employ and good graces, William nodded slightly, his anger still evident.
"Thank you, ma'am. I will clean it up." Peter bent down to help and Elizabeth picked up the spilled meat and covered the platter. He carried it down to the kitchen and Elizabeth followed. The servants were in their hall having their own supper and were very startled when Mrs. Darcy entered the room.
"Forgive me, please for the interruption. It seems my husband has lost his appetite and I find myself in dire need of civilized company. I wonder if it might be considered too much an imposition if I invited myself to join you all."
Mrs. Reynolds immediately stood and beckoned Lizzy to the table.
"Not at all, Mrs. Darcy! We would be honored if you would join us." She smiled warmly but Elizabeth realized the sudden impropriety of this all from the confused and nervous looks on all the servants' faces. As a member of the Bennet household growing up Elizabeth had often taken tea with the servants after her early morning walks and she did not see why it would be any different now. They did seem to be enjoying themselves when she walked in and she would do her best to see that they continued to have a jovial time.
"I apologize, I realize this is not quite what we are all used to. Thank you."
Mrs. Reynolds motioned for Peter to bring a chair towards her, thinking it best she sat near the housekeeper for they were the most acquainted. A table setting was put down and Elizabeth sat. A bowl of simple, but steaming stew was brought forth as well as bread and salad. It was a meal without any to-do but smelled absolutely delicious.
She took a bite of the stew and exclaimed her delight, "Mrs. Jackson this is scrumptious. Is this a new recipe?"
The cook looked very pleased with the compliment but said, "No, madam. I left young Missy here do the cooking for us tonight. She has been very busy learning these past few months and has earned the right to do the cooking on her own."
Missy was a girl no more than fifteen and was quite small. She nearly beamed with the praise from her mentor.
"Well, Missy. This is absolutely wonderful. We shall have to see what else you can come up with, don't we?" Elizabeth smiled at the girl.
"Thank you, Mistress." Missy's words were quiet, but she was very happy indeed.
They continued on in companionable silence, the servants all exhausted and famished from their long day.
Mrs. Reynolds spoke, startling many from the previous quiet that had ensued.
"I think I can speak for many of us, Mrs. Darcy, when I saw how excited and pleased we are with the upcoming arrangements for the Harvest Ball. It has been many a year since most of us attended one at Pemberley. Indeed, I remember each occasion with such happy memories, the house and grounds filled with laughter and prosperity. Lady Anne brought such joy to this estate, as you have in your short time here."
"Thank you, Mrs. Reynolds. Those words hold much meaning to me. It seems many of you have been here at Pemberley for your whole lives. I have asked my husband many times what used to transpire at the ball and festival but he simply says whatever I chose shall suffice. Despite all the planning Miss. Darcy and I have accomplished it seems we are still far away from success. Does anyone have any particular memories of the ball? What were they like?"
Peter spoke up, finding courage he did not normally possess, always being a quiet young man.
"Well, ma'am, old Johnson from the farms and my Pa always used to play the music! Us servants would dance in the fields until the wee hours of the mornin' – Pa played the bagpipes to remind him of home and Johnson the fiddle. It was always somethin' of an odd pairing, but it was always a frightful good time! Madam." Peter cautioned himself at his familiarity with the Mistress.
"Well then we must ask them to honor the tradition, of course! If they are willing." Elizabeth was so happy at his cherished memory.
"I'm sure my Pa would've loved to, Mrs. Darcy. Dear Pa died nearly five years ago, now."
"I am deeply sorry, Peter. I did not intend to evoke your sadness with his memory. We shall have to have music to honor him and the tradition. Perhaps I could leave that in your charge?" Elizabeth hoped he would agree.
"He did teach me to play, madam. And I know Frank from the stables can play a tune or two on his fiddle. And Missy can sing like an Angel!"
The young girl let out a cry of mortification and turned near scarlet at the mention of another talent.
"Well, Missy. If your singing is anywhere near as good as your cooking then I am positive your voice must be the best in the county! But you only need sing if you wish to – we will not hold you to any engagement against your will!" Elizabeth smiled warmly at the young girl and received a very tentative smile in return. Missy nodded.
"Thank you, Mrs. Darcy."
Elizabeth stood from the table and immediately the servants followed suit.
"Forgive me, please. Do not stand on my account. I have trespassed on your hospitality too long and must rejoin my husband. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your kindness in letting me join you. Good evening."
Elizabeth left the servant's hall in much lighter spirits, hoping her strength would remain as she sought out her ogre of a husband to tell him exactly what she thought of his childish behavior. He was not in the garden or his study. She saw a small light flickering from the library but found it was merely an unattended candle. She sat there to wait for his return, picking up an unfinished book.
After nearly an hour of reading Elizabeth was beginning to feel the tolls of the day and ascended to her chamber, ringing for her maid. She bathed and readied for bed. She tentatively knocked on her husband's adjoining door and heard no reply. She quietly opened the heavy door and saw a sight that cooled her anger very quickly. Fitzwilliam Darcy was fast asleep on his bed, fully clothed and still in his riding boots. He must've taken Parsifal for a heavy ride as the smell of sweat and cold night air still lingered slightly in the air.
Elizabeth walked to him and saw the lines of worry and stress etched across his sleeping face. Her hand gently caressed his now stubbly jaw line and she smiled wearily.
"Oh, William," she sighed. She moved to the end of the large bed and gently removed his boots. He did not stir even in the slightest. Elizabeth stoked the fire and pulled the coverlet up toward him. She blew out the candle and turned to leave until she heard him softly say,
"Elizabeth." It was quiet and she faced him again.
He motioned for her to come to him and her throat nearly choked on a sob as she was in his arms in an instant.
"Forgive me, love."
Lizzy nuzzled into her husbands arms and felt the soft pressure of a kiss being applied to her hair. She shuffled to look up to him, her cheek resting on his strong chest.
"You need not apologize to me, William."
She could feel him nod slightly.
"I will speak to Peter tomorrow. Perhaps he will wish to take some time off to visit his family in Devon before the harvest is upon us. If there is, indeed, a harvest." His voice cracked a little and Lizzy sensed the stress he was under.
"Is it so very bad?"
"I can't tell yet. The crops are there, but the weather is against us."
"We will take care of the tenants, William. In whatever way is necessary. I will make whatever sacrifices you think are best. We can always make do."
William chuckled but his heart glowed with warmth at his lovely wife.
"I promise you will never need to give up any pleasure of yours, my darling. The estate can handle many troubles. I simply fear for the pride of our neighbors. They are a hearty bunch and do not like to take what they have not earned. We could not be blessed with a more loving community. I fear they like you more than they do me, at the moment."
"The servants certainly do right now. You were an ogre to Peter, my dear husband. He did not deserve your harsh words, no matter the stress. Talk to Richard or me if you must be cross. But do not blame the others. They would do anything for you, you know. We all would." She kissed his chest, where her head lay.
"I do not deserve you, Elizabeth. But thank God everyday that you are mine."
Lizzy leaned up and kissed his lips.
"And you are mine, William. Forever."
Well, well, it's been a while, hasn't it? Hello again. =)