Ch 46: Scars
"It is so good to be home again," sighed Georgiana happily as she glanced at the familiar trees of Pemberley as their carriage made its way closer to the main house.
Her brother chuckled even as he nodded his agreement, "'Tis indeed a sight for sore eyes."
Elizabeth turned to look not at the scenery but at her sister's reactions upon seeing Pemberley. Mary's face bespoke of amazement as the wide tree-dappled lane gave way to higher ground and, at the summit of the eminence, the woods ceased and the eye was instantly caught by Pemberley House, situated on the situated on the opposite side of a valley, into which the road, with some abruptness, wound. It was a large, handsome, stone building, standing well on rising ground, and backed by a ridge of high woody hills; - and in front, a stream of some natural importance was swelled into greater, but without any artificial appearance. Its banks were neither formal, nor falsely adorned.*
"Oh, 'tis beautiful!" she breathed her obvious approval of her sister's home.
Elizabeth sighed contently, much as Georgiana had done, "I feel fortunate indeed that I can share this sight with you, Mary."
"To be Mistress of all this, Lizzie!" Mary waved a hand, as though hoping to capture the expanse she saw stretched before her, "How hard you must work!"
"That she does," Mr. Darcy's gaze bespoke of clear admiration for his wife, "and she has made this place all the more beautiful for her dedication to its care."
Elizabeth flushed at his praise, "Pemberley is blessed with a good Master, who would allow no harm to befall her and her people."
Georgiana nudged Mary playfully as her brother and sister gazed at each other lovingly. "It would be quite sickening if it were not so sweet." She whispered good-naturedly.
Mary chuckled lightly, "Pemberley is as much their child as any future little Darcy's that might grace its halls with the pitter patter of little feet."
Their carriage soon crossed the bridge before arriving at Pemberley's door, in front of which an array of servants were assembled to welcome the Darcy's home.
The housekeeper, an elderly, respectable-looking woman, reminded Mary much of Mrs. Hill as she fussed over the Darcys as they descended from the carriage.
"Have a care, Mrs. Darcy, the path has been newly graveled. And Miss Darcy, do watch your hem, we had a rainstorm overnight and there are still puddles afoot. Mr. Darcy, I hope you will be careful and not trek mud onto my clean floors?"
Elizabeth greeted the lady with a warm hug before turning to ask after the other servants, "Dear Mrs. Reynolds, how happy I am to see you."
Mrs. Reynolds smiled widely, "We are happy that you have returned, Mrs. Darcy. And oh! This must be Miss Bennet?"
Elizabeth paused in speaking with one of the maids regarding her mother's health and turned again to Mrs. Reynolds. "Oh yes, do forgive me, Mrs. Reynolds. This is my sister, Miss Mary Bennet."
Mary curtsied in greeting even as she blushed at the many curious eyes turned towards her direction.
"I do hope you received word of our guest." Georgiana asked anxiously.
"Don't you fret, Miss Darcy, we received the message well enough. We prepared the rooms as you requested. You will be quite near each other. Now then, Rosie? Miss Bennet, Rosie will be your maid for the duration of your stay."
Mary smiled kindly at the girl, who could not have been more than sixteen, and was gratified when Rosie smiled back tentatively, dimples making their way onto her honest face.
Mr. Darcy, who had been giving the smiling carriage driver strict instructions to take the day for relaxation after seeing to the horses, turned to Mrs. Reynolds with a wide smile, "I do hope you are aware that Georgiana has invited another friend to stay with us? My hopes for a peaceful summer are again dashed."
"Oh yes, a message had arrived for you just this morning, Miss Darcy, I had it placed in your rooms."
With a kiss to the old houskeeper's cheeks, Georgiana grabbed Mary's hand, "Come Mary, let me read this letter before I give you a tour of Pemberley."
Mary nodded in relief, "A tour would be wonderful; I fear I shall become quite lost otherwise."
Elizabeth laughed, "It took me the better part of my initial stay to find my way. Now then, do remember we are to have tea in the Blue Parlor!"
Georgiana nodded her acknowledgement before tugging Mary along with her into the house.
Once across the threshold, Mary found herself gasping again as she beheld the wide staircase that had so intrigued Miss Matilda Bainbridge. The light shining through the windows made the marble glow with an unearthly light. Georgiana chuckled at her friend's look of awe, "Come Mary, you can marvel at the house later; I am impatient to read Mattie's reply."
Shaking her head at the finery around her, Mary could only follow suit.
While Georgiana perused her letter, glancing through it quickly before declaring happily that Mattie had replied in the positive and would be arriving at the end of the Season, Mary had a brief moment to study the room around her. It was tastefully decorated, as she had expected any room at Pemberley to be, with wallpaper patterned with small sprigs of lavender that befit a young girl well, a writing chair in a sunny corner, and various chairs and couches in various flower patterns. Here and there on she could see little sketches or knick-knacks that made the room feel quite comfortable despite its elegance.
"I suppose I should be a proper hostess and show you to your rooms, Mary." So saying, Georgiana led Mary to a door that was just across the hallway from her own. "Brother and Lizzie have a wing of the house all to themselves and guests usually stay in the level above us, for this floor is normally reserved for family. But well, you are family, Mary. Mattie will have the room next to yours when she visits, an exception I think Lizzie will approve of greatly. Do you like it?"
Mary stepped into the sitting room wonderingly, "Like it?! Georgie, what must you have thought when you stayed at Longbourn…this amount of space for one person is unfathomable!"
Georgie only laughed at her astonishment, "I thought Longbourn quite cozy, Mary, its very furnishings bespoke of great love and affection of the family it holds. You need not gasp so, for certainly your quarters at Rosings were no less grand."
"Grand though they were, but certainly not as bright as that of Pemberley, which has less of splendor and more of real elegance*. Why, even what little I have seen of it serves to lighten the soul."
"I can claim little credit but will accept the praise on the behalf of my forebearers. Now then, why do we not commence on our tour so as to give our maids time to unpack our trunks?"
Mary proved easy to convince as she shed her bonnet in favor of following Georgiana to examine the rest of Pemberley.
Elizabeth beamed over the tea service as Mary fairly gushed her appreciation for the marvel that was Pemberley. "My goodness, Mary, our home must be wonderful indeed to loosen your tongue in such a manner."
Mary blushed as she became suddenly aware of the deluge of words she had uttered, "I assure you, Lizzie, I am in earnest in my compliments. I can easily understand now Mr. Darcy's great reluctance to leave such a home."
"I know, Mary; you are incapable of false flattery."
"I do think, though, that the lady who is now Mistress to this home has become a better reason for my brother to perpetuate his hermit-like tendencies." Georgiana could not help but tease.
"And yet we continue to give reasons for him to travel – the trip to Rosings was customary, but we must travel to Hertfordshire and then London in the winter time."
"And hopefully to Buxton this summer? We shall show Mary the moors, of course, but I think Mattie might enjoy comparing the architecture of Buxton to that of Bath. 'Tis a spa town as well with a Crescent of its own, though even more richly decorated and complex than that of the Royal Crescent, or so I have read. We might visit St. Anne's Well, which I must own I feel a particularly attraction to, perhaps as it shares a name with Mama."
"You appear to have given much thought to such plans, Georgie. Though I am surprised; were you not just recently expressing your joy at being home once more?"
"Oh, but I do not plan on departing on such a trip quite so soon, certainly not until Mattie arrives, which shall be at least another month yet. Besides, you and Brother did not quite have time enough for a bridal tour when you wed, so impatient were you both to arrive back at Pemberley after stopping in London to support Lady Ashbury. I do not believe a year to be too late to make do."
"Is not the purpose of a bridal tour for the newlywed couple to have time to themselves?" Elizabeth looked much amused at Georgiana's plans for the summer.
Miss Darcy remained undaunted. "I suspect we shall find much to amuse ourselves in a new town, certainly enough to allow you and Brother to enjoy each others' company without distraction. Do say you will consider my proposition, Lizzie?"
Elizabeth looked at once bemused and proud as she replied, "With such a well-thought out plan, I can only capitulate to your request, Georgie. I shall approach your brother with the idea and see if he will grant his permission."
"Oh! I know he will agree should you ask him, Lizzie!"
"Surely you exaggerate, Georgie! You brother is not as pliable as that."
Georgiana only shook her head and traded knowing looks with her friend, "Mary will agree with me, certainly, that Brother has a difficult time refusing you anything, Lizzie."
Though she too smiled, Mary's spoken response was more measured, "I daresay he would be quick to make reality any reasonable request from either of you."
"Ah and so you have hit on the heart of the matter, Mary; his generosity is not without limits."
"Whose generosity?" Mr. Darcy's curious voice rang out as he made to join the ladies.
In lieu of replying, Georgiana noted, "'Tis not like you, Brother, to besmirch your reputation of punctuality."
"I humbly beg your forgiveness, ladies, but I fear a month's absence left many matters that needed attending despite Mr. Hendrick's capableness. Indeed, I seek permission to borrow my wife from your company. I know she had hoped to join you in the gardens after tea, but I believe she would like to accompany me to sort out this particular argument."
At the frown that marred his usually relaxed countenance when in her and Georgie's company, Elizabeth rose to join her husband. "I am sorry, Mary, that I must abandon you when we had just returned to Pemberley."
Mary shook her head even as she gave a small smile, "'Tis well, Lizzie. I remember well when various tenants would come to Longbourn to fetch you to help resolve various disputes. Georgie and I will keep each other company."
Georgie also nodded in an understanding manner, "Oh yes, I imagine we shall have quite the fun time losing ourselves in the grounds, particularly the maze."
Elizabeth smiled gratefully to her sisters as Mr. Darcy also gave a swift nod, "Thank you, ladies. I am in your debt."
Georgie's eyes sparkled as she gave a laugh, "You may yet live to regret such a comment, Brother!"
At his arched eyebrow, she would only say, "But do not let me detain you from your duties. We shall have more than suitable amount of time to discuss my proposition when you return."
Mr. Darcy could only give a crooked smile as he offered an arm to escort his wife from the room, "I can easily see you influence, Elizabeth, in such impertinence. How well you have corrupted my previously compliant sister!"
"I did nothing but help her trust in her own inherent intelligence," retorted his wife.
And so, the four parted with laughter.
Once in the hallway, however, Elizabeth found her concern replacing easily her earlier merriment, "What has happened?"
"'Tis a case of thievery, I'm afraid." Mr. Darcy's countenance was grave indeed as husband and wife made their way through the halls of Pemberley.
"Billy Graham stands accused again?"
At Darcy's nod, she sighed, "The poor lad, he has tried to put behind such an ignominious past but it ever haunts him for all that he has been cleared of wrong-doing each time."
"The stable-master expressed some concerns when I had first decided to take on Billy, not only because 'twas my first year as Master of Pemberley, but also because of the boy's not so innocent behaviors. But I could not but pity the child; becoming the man of the family at the tender age of eight presents a challenge for the most fortunate of souls. And he is not a bad sort of boy. I rather hoped that honest work might help keep him on a better future than he might have had otherwise."
"I imagine you saw a certain similarity between your situation and his, no?"
"Indeed, my clever wife, but I do believe poor Billy had an even more difficult time of it, and not only because of his youth. Mrs. Graham does what she can as a charwoman in Lambton, but I fear without Mr. Graham's income as a farmhand, small though it was, Billy's siblings were doomed to suffer for want of food for their bellies more often than not. The parish helped keep them warm, but even its powers were limited."
"And so he learned to pilfer small loafs of bread or even cuts of meat when he could."
Darcy nodded, "He was quite clever at it, and did it infrequently enough and in such low quantities each time that I believe the bakers and the butchers only thought they were growing more absent-minded."
"But he was caught, was he not? I believe, according to your meticulously kept notes, that he attempted to liberate some pastries and a doll for his sister's birthday?"
"Just so. Little Nelly was but a year old, and Billy wished for her first birthday to be a happy memory for all the children, particularly so soon after their father's passing…though his actions constituted a crime, I had not the heart to punish him unduly; he was only a child."
"And he was only attempting to bring some happiness to his sister's life. 'Tis remarkable, is it not, that your stories should be so similar and yet so different?"
Darcy sighed even as he smiled gently at his wife's maid as Daisy went to fetch proper attire for the Mistress, "But for the circumstances of our birth, our stories might have been mirror images of one another."
He sat patiently in a nearby chair as he observed his wife, with Daisy's quiet assistance, as she donned the green riding habit he had insisted upon shortly after they had recovered from their first quarrel as husband and wife. He had been startled to learn that Elizabeth's preference for walking grew out of a deep-seated dislike for transport by horseback; the idea that his otherwise courageous wife should fear the stallions that shared her high spirits was quite endearing to him. Elizabeth had not taken kindly to his pleased grin at her revelation. That the gift of the riding habit should coincide with her birthday shortly after this admission on her part was mere coincidence; or at least, Darcy had insisted upon such reasoning when Elizabeth had given him a look of exasperation. Indeed, Darcy rather thought that her indignance at his amusement had been a driving factor in her willingness to allow him to reacquaint her with what he considered an essential practice for both well bread gentlemen and gentlewomen.
Seeing his soft smile, Elizabeth could only roll her eyes, for she could easily speculate upon the direction of his thoughts, "You are quite frightening Daisy with your presence; 'tis most unusual for a husband to take such interests in his wife's dress."
"Ah but this particular feature of your closet brings such fond memories for me; would you truly deny me the pleasure of thinking upon them?"
"I am of a mind to, particularly when these memories are not the most flattering for me."
"But 'tis rare indeed when my most capable wife should admit to a deficiency; I only cherish the thought that I may be as attentive a tutor for her as she has been for me."
"Though your pupil proved to be both a reluctant and an impatient one?"
"You must not forget stubborn as well! Though your tenacity did well to prevent you from admitting defeat; you are quite capable of keeping your seat now, no?"
"I still do not much care for the height of my perch; I would rather remain with my feet solidly planted on the ground."
"But you cut quite the fine figure now atop your mare; I daresay Daisy would agree?"
Daisy, used as she was now to the gentle teasing between the Master and Mistress of Pemberley, only grinned good-naturedly as she made remark that Mrs. Darcy did everything well.
A response to which Mr. Darcy laughed heartily in approval, "Well said, Daisy!"
Said maid only grinned to herself at the fond look on her Master's face and the blush on that of her Mistress. Later, she peeked out the windows as the Darcys rode away on their errand, their steeds traveling side by side in perfect harmony, and felt her smile widen at the obvious affection the couple held for one another. One of the older maids had once said that Mr. Darcy was a fair and just Master such that Daisy was not as apprehensive as she might have been when entering the household staff. Her meeting of Mrs. Darcy, even while she had merely been Miss Elizabeth Bennet, did much to reassure Daisy that Mr. Darcy was also a kind Master. Truly, thought Daisy to herself, she could not wish for a happier situation.
As they followed the path that would take them from the Pemberley to Lambton, the Darcys spoke more on their planned approach to this particular conflict.
"I thought it best to allow Mr. Grey to speak his piece before approaching Billy," Mr. Darcy explained, "so the accuser cannot claim preconceived prejudice on our part. I do not expect much in the way of details from the man himself, but perhaps young Bartholomew might reveal more of his father's notions of the crime."
Elizabeth nodded in agreement, "This incidence marks the third such happenstance this year alone; I do wish we knew the true cause of Mr. Grey's fixation on blaming Billy Graham!"
"I share in your wish, but I cannot expect him to trust such secrets to those of our social standing."
Though Elizabeth looked mutinous for a moment, even she could only sigh, "Though such a gap existed whilst I was at Longbourn, I feel it all the more keenly now that I am Mrs. Darcy. Though the Darcy name is well respected, we are still viewed as apart from the townsfolk. 'Tis difficult sometimes to tread the line between altruism and pity so that we do not appear too haughty; even the poorest have some measure of personal dignity that does not easily bear insult."
"But in a case that involves one of our own servants, no matter how junior, I cannot but breech such a gap so as to find the truth of the circumstance from the source."
"Or at the very least the truth from Mr. Grey's perspective."
Darcy nodded, "We shall interview Billy on our return and so obtain a complete picture."
The rest of the journey was filled with conversation regarding other updates from Mr. Hendrick's meticulously made reports. As Elizabeth had busied herself in ensuring the menu for Mary's welcome to Pemberley and in working with Mrs. Reynolds to sooth the ruffled feelings that must arise in a staff as large as that of the grand estate, she had little opportunity to peruse such records with her husband as was their usual habit. Fortunately, the ride afforded the couple enough time to cover some of the highlights of the happenings on their estate during their absence. As they drew closer to Lambton, the Darcys drew the attention of more passersby who, on recognition of the couple, offered kind greetings that the couple returned in kind. The townspeople's respect for Mr. Darcy had not lessened since his marriage, but their willingness to behave more naturally in his presence had increased with the knowledge that his wife was so closely related to one of their own. Indeed, Elizabeth paused a moment when she spied Mrs. Littlefield passing under the shadow of the market cross to exchange pleasantries and, at the older lady's insistence, offered a promise to bring Mary to tea on Elizabeth's next visit into town.
Turning to tie his horse, a magnificent creature named Magnus, to the fence near the tanner's residence, Darcy then turned to help his wife from the saddle. Her gentle mare, which Elizabeth had dubbed Scheherazade with an arch look to her husband when first presented with the animal, stood quietly while her Mistress dismounted and followed Darcy obediently as he secured her next to her companion.
With great dignity, the couple walked up the path to the tannery. At their entrance, a freckled lad looked up from his task of laying out some newly cured harnesses next to the matching messenger bags.
Before the boy could do more than bow in greeting, his father entered the room from a side door and immediately (and loudly) made his displeasure known, "Mr. Darcy, I demand reparations! That young scoundrel you employ has stolen from me for the last time! I demand his immediate removal from this country!"
As each angry word fell from the tanner's lips, Elizabeth noted that his son had put down his pile of goods and silently retreated to a dark corner of the shop. When finally Mr. Grey paused for breath, Mr. Darcy spoke in as reasonable a voice as he could muster, "Now then, Mr. Grey, I must know more of your accusation ere I can decide on a suitable course of action."
"We shall, of course, seek a just conclusion to this matter," was Elizabeth's input, made in a neutral voice. Nonetheless, she could tell, by the set of his jaw, that Mr. Grey was most displeased at her presence. After all, she had been much more willing to argue against his verbal abuse of Billy on their first encounter; though she did deem it reasonable as she had seen Mr. Grey strike his own son on her prior visits to Lambton. That act in itself was not quite alarming, for not a few parents were known to raise a hand to their children in the spirit of discipline, but Elizabeth also knew from comments Mrs. Littlefield had made in passing that Mr. Grey's heavy-handed ways extended also to his long-suffering wife. No matter her personal feelings on the matter, however, she had learned both from Darcy and from her own observations, that a calm and impartial approach elicited the best response, particularly in her position as the wife of the local landowner.
Seeing that the Darcys were not going to pass judgment until he aired the particulars of his complaints, Mr. Grey's complexion darkened to an alarming shade of purple. Seeing that the tanner was not to reply, Mr. Darcy turned instead to the son, who had so far not spoken a word, and asked with the tone of one who was used to being obeyed, "Bartholomew, I hope you may enlighten us?"
Casting an almost fearful look at his father, the lad stepped forward hesitantly, "Yes sir. I believe Father refers to certain pieces of hide that Mr. Sanford had requested for harnesses at Pemberley. Billy Graham was to fetch it from here in return for proper payment"
At the glare from his father, the lad's voice faded into silence, prompting Darcy to ask again, "And did Billy provide sufficient funds?"
Bartholomew hesitated, his weary eyes fixed upon the angry expression on his father face.
Seeing the lad's discomfort, Elizabeth sighed in her mind; Mr. Grey's firm hand on the discipline of his family was well-known. Turning to her husband, she asked, "Why do we not speak with Mr. Sanford? He is a most meticulous man and would certainly have made record. Billy could not have had the monies without Mr. Sanford putting them into his hands."
Mr. Darcy nodded thoughtfully, "I believe that might be a suitable course of action. I thank you Bartholomew."
As soon as the Darcys turned to go, however, Mr. Grey's voice drew their attention again, "Surely you need not trouble yourself, Mr. Darcy."
Darcy turned with a seemingly quizzical look, "But should we not seek the truth from all parties involved so that the matter can be solved in the most satisfactory way for you, Mr. Grey? Mrs. Darcy and I would hate so for you to be thus cheated out of your livelihood."
A panicked look made its way to Mr. Grey's face. He shuffled the pile of receipts on the counter before he admitted grudgingly, "Perhaps I was mistaken."
"Are you certain?" Elizabeth could not help but ask, "Surely you know that an accusation as serious as theft towards a member of Pemberley's staff reflects poorly on the abilities of the Master and Mistress to render proper discipline. Besides, I fear in this matter of payment, Pemberley would be at fault for not settling our bill adequately. I would so hate to establish such a precedent of untrustworthiness in Lambton."
Mr. Grey scowled at the offending slip of paper in front of him even as he attempted to speak in a respectful manner, "I thank you for your willingness to listen to my complaints, Mrs. Darcy, but I fear I had misplaced this particular receipt. I would never dream of impugning the honor of Pemberley or its Master."
Though she noted the conspicuous absence of a mention as to insults to the honor of Pemberley's Mistress, Elizabeth was too relieved at this most swift conclusion to bother to take offense. Instead, she allowed her husband to express his thanks for the tanner's willingness to re-examine his records while she turned her gaze to the almost-forgotten figure of the tanner's son.
Young Bartholomew stood with his head bowed, one of his arms rubbing absently on the other where a bruise or a scar was certain to be hidden by the sleeves of his shirt. His body trembled as though in anticipation of a lashing, an event that Elizabeth suspected was not so far in his future. She felt a wave of helplessness as she thought on what Mrs. Littlefield had said of surreptitiously slipping small bundles of herbs into Mrs. Grey's hands during the Sunday services. Her frown did not go un-noticed during the Darcys' return to their estate.
Waiting until they were sufficiently removed from Lambton, Darcy asked in concern, "Elizabeth? You are troubled. Are you not relieved that Mr. Grey did not pursue further this matter?"
Elizabeth looked up from gazing at her mare's braided mane, "Forgive me, my thoughts were otherwise occupied."
"Ah, doubtlessly wondering if you can rescue Mrs. Grey and her children, no?"
Elizabeth smiled wryly, "Am I so transparent?"
Darcy shook his head and sighed, "I have myself hoped that something may be done. But even we who hold such sway over the lives of others cannot interfere with the going-on's within their home. Though I too look upon Mr. Grey's treatment of his family in distaste, the law is on his side to do as he pleases. His wife and his children are as much his property as the tannery where he plies his trade."
"I daresay he treats his tannery more kindly." Elizabeth grumbled to Darcy's amusement.
"I daresay you are right. Nonetheless, 'tis beyond our ability to interfere, no matter how much we may wish to right what we perceive to be a moral wrong."
Elizabeth sighed, "I suppose, blessed as I have been, that I oftentimes forget that I am no better than chattel in the eyes of the law, property of my father and now my husband."
"I should hope that you do not feel like chattel."
Elizabeth shook her head, "Oh no! I did not mean…Sweet William, I know you do not see me as merely a good to be owned. I only feel guilty that I should have the good fortunes of having such a loving and understanding husband when Mrs. Grey should suffer so. My conscious bids that I help her and her children even though my mind knows the impossibilities of such a wish."
The clip-clop of the horses' hooves were accompanied only by the calls of passing birds as the Darcys were each occupied by their own thoughts.
When Mr. Darcy again broke the silence, his voice was contemplative, "My father had always taught me that I should never raise my hand to a lady. I knew such crimes, for I do see it as such, were committed among some of our tenants or the inhabitants of Lambton, but I little thought that any true gentleman would, and certainly not towards his wife, until I went away to University. I suppose growing up as I did with a family born of true affections that my expectations were perhaps much too naïve. Not until I had come into contact with some of the children from such families did I register the true privilege of my situation. The Darcy family is rich in wealth and connections but, more importantly, we were blessed with great love and respect for one another."
"What became of those gentlemen?" Elizabeth curiosity won out against the battle with her sympathetic thoughts regarding her husband's experiences.
"Not all of them fell into the pattern of their fathers, though I fear the majority of them did. Indeed, not a few were part of Fitzhugh's crowd. I suppose I could little blame them for turning to drink and other unsavory pursuits to ease their nightmares…not all scars are physical after all."
"Was it so openly known the identity of such families?"
Darcy laughed humorlessly, "Known?! Such matters were always known in some manner! Gentlemen can be quite as fond of idle gossip as any lady of the Ton. But no one spoke on the matter, leastwise not openly. Just as the indiscretions of this Lord or that Lady were whispered about but never openly acknowledged except for the most brazen. 'Twas quite the shock, I can assure you, when Aunt Matlock first made me attend a ball during the Season."
"No wonder you learned to cultivate such an impassive mask," Elizabeth marveled.
"The world is a darker place for some, and not all such situations welcome the scrutiny of light. I fear as a consequence of my association with George Wickham, I am more familiar with such places than I would like…nonetheless, I believe that all hope is not lost for young Bartholomew. Our vicar does well to offer a strong moral guidance with a gentle hand, and I think Mrs. Winthrope's presence does much to create some balm for Mrs. Grey's spirit."
"James Winthrope is doing well in London in his apprenticeship in the law, I believe. No doubt his parents' guidance had strong influence on his sense of righteousness."
"And he does have a talent for oration; I think he shall have a bright future as a barrister."
"Perhaps we ought to introduce him to Charlotte and Lord Ashbury," Elizabeth murmured thoughtfully.
Darcy chuckled, "A Lord's favor certainly would not go amiss, and we can certainly vouch for his soundness of character…now then, I had another matter I wished to discuss."
"Oh?" Elizabeth's curiosity was piqued at the seriousness of his tone.
"Indeed…will you not tell me of the meaning behind Georgie's most cryptic words?"
At his apprehensive expression, Elizabeth could not help but laugh, "I fear she had plans for a certain activity that you quite despise."
A look of horror dawned on Darcy's face, "She does not wish to hold a ball at Pemberley, does she?!"
"A ball?! Whatever in the world possessed you to think of such an idea?"
"Well, I am not fond of dances; even though I am certain to have the belle of ball on my arm. I cannot but wish to avoid the necessity of muttering insincere greetings in the name of good manners alone."
Elizabeth smiled at the compliment he paid her even as she shook her head in sympathy, "My poor husband, you shall be quite miserable when we must go to London this winter."
Darcy sighed, "So I dearly hope that Georgie would not wish to hasten the experience in a wish to host such a gathering at Pemberley."
"Fear not, she has quite another idea in mind."
"Thank goodness." His relief was palpable.
"She wishes to travel in order to introduce Mary to the moors and Miss Bainbridge to Buxton. I do believe she made mention that we ought to think upon it as a belated bridal tour."
Darcy looked quite thoughtful before saying, "Buxton has been growing in popularity in recent years as the fifth Duke of Devonshire did much to make its attractions more desirable for travelers. My father had invested greatly when the Buxton Crescent was being built. Indeed, though she is not aware of it, much of the monies set aside for Georgie's dowry consists of funds derived from ventures in that town. My father thought it rather fitting that she should benefit from a location that was home to St. Anne's Well."
Elizabeth was surprised at his easy acquiescence, "And yet we must again travel forth from Pemberley, a task I know you to dislike greatly."
"But Buxton is of no great distance and the Peak District is truly is worth seeing, I believe. You had remarked upon Derbyshire's untamed wildness, and no more is it more obvious than in that area."
"You speak as though you possess great fondness for it."
"I remember well when my father took me on visits to the textile mills in which he had significant investment. I was too young to have met Sir Richard Arkwright, he who invented the water frame, but I remember that Father always spoke well of his son. Indeed, I continued to hold great admiration for Mr. Richard Arkwright, junior, for rising in the world of his own intelligence and hard work. He was even made High Sheriff of Derbyshire. Your Uncle Gardiner is cut from similar cloth, I believe."
"I continue to be surprised, though I suppose I ought not to be, at the amount of Darcy wealth that draws from sources other than the land."
"Oh yes. Though I possess no great fondness for travel, such investments necessitates my personal visit periodically though I am fortunate to have agents who have worked long with our family and in whom I can place my trust. And in learning of the mills, I also learned to care for others. The workers' village at Cressbrook Mill, though certainly not glamorous, was clean and serviceable, unlike Litton Mill's deplorable environment. The Arkwrights always took care to listen to the needs of their workers, a lesson that Father impressed upon my young mind to carry forth to the management of Pemberley."
He paused, "Forgive me, I do not wish to bore you with such dry talk of business."
Elizabeth only laughed, "Surely you must know by now that my interests are quite unladylike? I find your tales quite fascinating and am overjoyed that you are willing to share your thoughts with me. I must own that my understanding regarding the textile industry is at this time limited, but my ignorance can be mended easily with some study on my part. Did you not say that what is yours is mine as well? I cannot allow my education as to the true source of my daily comforts be lacking."
Darcy shook his head ruefully, "How is it that you continue to manage to surprise me? I had once declared to Richard that I wished for a true partner. And now I am in awe almost daily that my prayers have been answered so completely. You are a most singular woman, Elizabeth, and I feel fortunate that you have chosen to become a Darcy."
"If I be a singular woman, than you must be a most singular man. For I imagine husbands are not usually in the habit of encouraging such interests in their wives. I think we can only be thankful that we, odd creatures that we are, managed to find each other."
The education of a wife, Elizabeth Darcy had found, was a rather odd one. Her duties were plenty but then so were her sources of aid. Mrs. Reynolds ran the household with such a practiced hand such that Elizabeth found her load considerable lighter than it might have been otherwise. Perhaps her genuine contentment with the current state of the household brought with it another source of help, for she found that she truly did not wish to change much regarding her new home. So predisposed was she to think favorable on the tastes of her predecessors, Elizabeth found little cause, aside perhaps from the furnishings of a workroom of her own and a quiet insistence on fresh flowers in the household, to make more major changes. The bulk of her attentions then, were turned towards the household staff. She endeavored to learn each of their names and spent not a few hours sitting at her new table, a wide cherry wooded object that, but for the delicate carvings of rose vines that climbed over its surface and the gentle curved nature of its edges, might have been the twin of the one that stood in the Master's study, editing a most convoluted mapping of the various connections among those who served her family. She knew it was a most ambitious project, for not a few servants also had ties to the tenants or the townsfolk of Lambton and the neighboring towns, but Elizabeth was nothing if not determined. She found that her experience handling the personal conflicts among her father's tenants was but a preparatory course in the greater lessons of balancing reward with reprimand. Just as poor behavior was to be addressed with appropriate words of warning, so good behavior was to be celebrated. She made it a habit to visit the servant's hall at least once a month, to speak of her appreciation for those who had done well. Her genuine gratitude was easily discernable and the staff soon made it a good-natured competition among themselves to have their names mentioned at each gathering.
Her vow to become a true partner to Darcy also meant that she became familiar with the tenants and the inhabitants of Lambton, particularly the tradesmen from whom the Darcy's obtained their essential needs. She became good friends with Mrs. Littlefield, who was quite happy to discover that Maddie's niece made for a more than acceptable Mistress of Pemberley. In time, as she began to find her own footing, she also became well-acquainted with the Winthropes, particularly the ladies of that family as they jointly tried to encourage literacy in Lambton's youths. Darcy was happy for her new friendships, for though the Darcys often presented themselves as a unit, he knew she was in possession of too much independence not to wish for her own pursuits.
His encouragement helped greatly with Elizabeth's confidence as she transitioned into her new role. It also allowed her to appreciate anew the equality she had gained within her marriage. Of course, as they were each still rather stubborn individuals, the Darcy's did not lead lives completely devoid of conflict. Learning to live with another provided more than enough challenges. She learned that her husband was quite fastidious with his wardrobe. While she cared little for the rips and tears that her gowns constantly sustained, he was of a more dignified persuasion and would frown at even the smallest wrinkle in his clothing. He was certainly not a dandy, but was quite particular about his appearance. She also came to realize the true privilege that had been entrusted to her when he allowed her to tease him. Not a few times, she would observe the quick transformation from caring husband and brother to solemn landlord and master and marvel that so commanding a man should not only listen to but also seek her counsel. He still remained prone to fits of black humor, when his face became blank and he withdrew into himself, but she also learned that, with but some patience, she could coax him to unburden himself. She also learned to appreciate his vast patience. When she was afflicted with attacks of temper and restlessness, he minded not that she became as prickly as the thorniest rose bush but rather would ensure she had her tea just so and that the best flowers of the season were sent to their rooms.
As she had predicted, Elizabeth Darcy turned out to be quite a different sort of woman than Elizabeth Bennet had been. But she could not bring herself to mind either the changes or her growing dependence upon her husband, for she was well aware that her husband was likewise learning to better accommodate the presence of a wife. And truly, she could think of no greater joy than their joint pursuit in learning to live happily and contently with one another.
Mary felt that her days Pemberley had an almost dreamlike quality about them. The sun was most obliging as it smiled down upon the estate's occupants. Even rainy days, however, afforded their fair share of adventure as she and Georgie wandered the halls and discovered new secrets in the many chambers of the main house. She was able to observe carefully the mutual respect Mr. and Mrs. Darcy held for each other and their willingness to discuss topics there were perhaps unfathomable for those dedicated to enforcing the strict rules of propriety. They were often busy with the demands of the estate, as even Georgie had her part to play for the education of the local children, but the Darcys still kept the morning ritual of gathering in the library as a family after a light breakfast to reply to correspondences or simply read together and the evening ritual of gathering in the music room to listen to Mary and Georgie play the pianoforte before parting ways for their journeys to the land of sleep. Mary soon learned that Mr. and Mrs. Darcy were early risers and delighted in each others' company during their morning walks. She also came to realize that for an hour each afternoon, the Master and Mistress were not to be looked for but for matters of dire consequence. It was not in her nature to question such a rule, particularly not after one especially stormy day, she caught a glimpse of her sister, leaning comfortably in her husband's embrace, standing with head lifted to watch the lightening dance across the sky through the clear ceilings of the conservatory. From her position, she could not see their expressions, but from their relaxed stances, she had no need to see to understand the affection they truly held for one another. Even as she hurried away to afford the couple the privacy they deserved, Mary smiled at the obvious happiness that her sister had found and took the time and effort to sustain.
When Georgiana had seen the wistful look on Mary's face, she had given her own small smile in reply, "I expect you have spied Brother and Lizzie in a moment of tenderness, no?"
Mary settled herself and picked up her own knitting needles to do her part in the making of the hats and scarves that would be distributed to the needy that winter, "That I have, I did not think I would ever see Lizzie's spirit so calmed; she is truly content in his company."
"And Brother in hers; I have seen them complete whole conversations simply by a glance and communicate so much meaning in just a look. I am happy for them…though…"
"'Tis enough to make anyone long to find their own partner in life, no?"
Georgiana nodded, "Indeed so; though I do not know if the crowded ballrooms of London will be quite the place for success."
Mary was quiet a moment before asking a question that had long lay dormant in her mind, "Are you frightened of the upcoming Season?"
Georgiana likewise stilled in her movements, "I think I would be fool not to be at least a little frightened…all the scrutiny that shall be my lot. I find it difficult to see how one might find a truly worthy companion in so…so…public a space. I suppose, a part of me hopes to be found before I must venture forth into the unknown. 'Tis silly, I know, for I cannot hope to meet eligible young gentlemen without a proper coming out, and yet…" She shook herself and returned to her knitting with a brief smile at Mary, "But I shall have the company of both you and Mattie, and we shall all three of us search together. I think I can be brave enough with my friends at my side."
Dreams of girlish imagination aside, Mary found that her friend was quite grounded. In the weekly visits to the parsonage to help the Winthrope ladies with the lessons to the neighborhood children, she could easily see the easy grace with which Georgiana conducted herself. If she had been more prone to envy, Mary certainly would have become well-acquainted with the green-eyed monster at the obvious looks of admiration on the young lads' faces in the presence Miss Darcy, for her natural beauty was greatly enhanced by the patience and care she showed her young charges. But Mary was of a content persuasion such that she felt only gladness at being able to accompany her friend and her sister in their good deeds. Had she known of the praise that were whispered about the worthiness of Miss Bennet to be a relation of the revered Darcy family or the nods of approval that were made outside her field of vision, she would have surely blushed in embarrassment. As it was, Mary found herself becoming fast friends with Miss Felicity Winthrope who carried herself with a studious air that hid well a cheerful humor. Indeed, Mary was certain that Miss Winthrope not only knew about but also provided her assistance with the harmless pranks that the boys were liable to pull on each other.
Felicity Winthrope's appearance revealed some hidden Irish ancestry in the red tint to her locks and the vibrant green of her eyes. Newly returned but the previous fall from Greenwood Abbey, an establishment for the education of young ladies that possessed an uncommonly practical curriculum in the inclusion of writing, accounts, morals, and geography in addition to the typical pursuits of music, dancing, and drawing that society deemed acceptable for those of the female sex, Miss Winthrope was delighted to make the acquaintance of the new Mrs. Darcy and, by extension, Miss Darcy and, now in the summer, Miss Bennet. For her part, Elizabeth found in the vicar's daughter a sensible young lady whose love of reading and, indeed, writing stories of her own, reminded her much of Kitty but whose outwardly calm demeanor put her more in mind of Jane. A streak of mischievousness, detectable now and again in the flash of laughter in Miss Winthrope's eyes, matched well Elizabeth's own spirited manners such that the two became good friends despite the difference in their stations. Georgiana likewise found Miss Winthrope a most wonderful companion, particularly during the winter months when the domestic quietness of the days at Pemberley grew too much even for her gentle nature.
This particular day, Georgiana accompanied Felicity in paying a visit to the Lambton bookshop to fetch new writing material for their pupils while Elizabeth and Mary took tea with Mrs. Littlefield. Mr. Anthony Stanton, the proprietor of that establishment, was the youngest brother of the apothecary's wife and, having grown up in Lambton all his life, quite familiar with the reputation of the Darcy family. Indeed, though he was of an age similar to that of the Master of Pemberley, Mr. Stanton had always been rather in awe of that gentleman's noble bearings. Because of his sister's ties of friendship with the new Mrs. Darcy's aunt and his own position as an employee of Mrs. Darcy's uncle, however, he found his admiration quickly becoming genuine respect as his interactions with the Darcy's grew more frequent. He was delighted that all the Darcy's appeared to be of bibliophile leanings and quickly learned of their preferences. So it was that when he spied Miss Darcy's figure entering his shop, he immediately offered his greetings and a cheerful comment as to the copy of E.T.A Hoffman's Fantasiestücke in Callots Manier, in the original German, that he thought she might like.
Felicity chuckled at the look of excitement on her friend's face at such a revelation, "Oh Georgie, I am quite envious of your gift with modern languages; I daresay should you brother ever have need to travel extensively on the Continent, he shall have no need of an interpreter if you would but accompany him."
Georgiana blushed at the praise even as she remarked good-naturedly, "Ah but as my brother has no fondness for travel, I expect I shall have little opportunity to put my skills to the true test of speaking with natives. Though perhaps 'tis for the best, as surely my vanity would be severely harmed with the indignant response from the original speakers at the crimes I commit against their languages in my audacious attempts to speak them. Besides, your own prowess in languages is certainly not lacking."
Rather than comment directly on the compliment that had been paid her, Felicity merely smiled slightly before turning to the shopkeeper, "Mr. Stanton, I wonder if I might trouble you for a lending copy; if such a new edition is to be lent?"
Mr. Stanton was all graciousness as he readily produced another copy. If he stayed his hand a moment longer or his eyes gazed a bit more fondly as he handed the book to Miss Winthrope than he had when he had with Miss Darcy, neither young lady saw fit to make verbal note of it. Indeed, Georgiana, as was her habit when visiting the shop, had wandered to the far shelves that held the available music scores and so was not privy to the slight widening of her friend's eyes or her sharp intake of breath.
"Miss Winthrope, may I…that is…I hope…" His gaze was all earnestness even as her smile dropped from her face.
Glancing away from him, she murmured, "Mr. Stanton, please, do not…"
He sighed, "Have you not forgiven me?"
"Time may heal certain wounds, but even it cannot erase all scars." Was her reply.
He shook his head grimly, "Will you ever forgive me? We were friends once; can we not be friends again? Barnaby would have wished…"
His words were never to be finished as her eyes flashed dangerously, "You dare speak his name? But for you perhaps he may still be present. And our family may yet be whole!"
"I did not encourage him to join the war!" His voice held the weariness of one who had long protested his innocence.
"No? Was it not you who filled his head with tales of glory? Was it not you who shared with him the poems of ancient battles? Was it not you who read him the verses that exclaimed the thrill of victory? He was but a child! What did he know of bloodshed and the cruelty men could perform on one another?" Her voice was fraught with bitterness.
"We were all innocents then, in our own way… Surely you must know the torment that stains my soul at his passing. Would that I could take his death onto myself, if only to spare you this pain! I would have, you know I would have had I been with him. Without hesitation…Even while the rest of the townspeople rejoiced at the King's Army's victory on the Peninsula but a month past, I could only weep for his lost life. Had the end come but three years sooner!"
"Three years…" her voice murmured, the anger having left her, leaving only a feeling of emptiness, "he would have been seven and ten today."
"Three years…" he echoed, "three years since you left with nary a word."
Silence was his only reply ere she curtsied and, without further mention of their conversation, went to fetch Georgiana so that the ladies might depart.
Though she attempted be civil as he handed her the package that held the supplies which had necessitated their visit, she could not hide the perfunctory nature of her thanks or the iciness of her nod. Georgiana at once sensed the change in her friend's demeanor but refrained from remarking until the ladies were once again in the open sunshine. A quick glance back showed her Mr. Stanton's watchful figure in the window as they rounded the corner on the path.
Quickening her steps so as to catch her friend's departing figure, Georgiana begged breathlessly, "Felicity, please!"
At such entreaties, Miss Winthrope paused and turned to her friend with shame splashed across her features, "Forgive me, Georgie."
"'Tis no matter. I really ought to be accustomed to a faster pace, for certainly Lizzie is most enthusiastic on her walks. Only…you are troubled, my friend."
Under Georgie's gentle gaze, Felicity found herself curiously tearful. Taking a few soothing breaths, she looked down at the parcels in her basket. "Mama and Papa are waiting for me…we must visit my brother today."
"Oh. I did not know you were to go to London."
Felicity shook her head, "No…not James…my younger brother. Today is his birthday you see."
"Barnaby." Georgiana whispered and immediately appeared abashed that she should have forgotten such an important piece of knowledge. She had been only mildly acquainted with the Winthropes when they first came to Derbyshire; indeed, their coming was one of the first tasks that her brother had managed after their father's death. In those early years, she had been too caught up in her own mourning and in adjusting to life with her brother now in the Master's position to have associated much with either the clergyman who had taken the Kympton living or his family. Vaguely, she recalled that there had been three figures seated next to Mrs. Winthrope in the pews but that, three years ago, only two sat with her, their clothing dyed black in mourning.
At the broken look on her friend's face, Georgiana silently berated herself even as she put her arms around Felicity to offer what comfort she could. Though Miss Winthrope trembled, no tears came and only a moment passed before she straightened and made an attempt to smile, though it only ended in a grimace. Fingering a bracelet on her wrist, a small trinket which was truly no more than three ribbons braided together with a simple book shaped charm, she said, "He was always so adventurous, though I suppose neither James nor I were able to set an example for being a docile child. So full of life…he was so happy when he gave me this gift, from pennies and sixpence he had won in a marble game from the other village children…how proud he was of what he saw as a grand accomplishment! When we read the letter after his sudden departure, Papa and James raced after him at once, but they were too late. The King's navy required ships ready for departure for the Peninsular campaign and Barnaby was an agile lad, well suited for the role of powder monkey on the ships. Perhaps if he had enlisted through a more conventional route, he would have been safe on land at the naval school in Greenwitch. We certainly could have afforded it as a result of your family's generosity. As it was, he barely lived long enough to see his fourteenth year. Only with the help of your brother and, I suspect, your uncle, did we learn of his fate and recover some of his belongings, meager though they were…"
Taking a fortifying breath, she continued, for she felt a necessity to allow her words to escape the confines of her mind, "We grieved. James became even more studious, I suspect to distract himself from morose thoughts…Mama expanded her focus on the village children, that their presence may replace the emptiness of Barnaby's absence… Papa perused the Good Book as though it could bring him an incantation to bring my brother back…I chose to go away; my aunt is friends with the Matron at Greenwood Abbey, you see, and I think she quite rejoiced that her wild niece would finally submit to becoming a proper lady at last. Mama did not wish for me to go, no less because she expected… well, 'tis no matter her expectations now…she did not wish to lose another child so soon, but James knew I could not stay, and he and Papa made arrangements with Aunt Martha's aid so that I could leave. When Papa wrote that Pemberley had a new Mistress, I thought that perhaps such a change meant I could begin anew as well, and so I returned. And I thought … I thought perhaps Mr. Stanton and I could meet again as indifferent acquaintances, certainly not friends as we were before, but I see now that I was wrong. I cannot see him but to feel anger; for certainly his fascination with ships and battles led to Barnaby's ill-fated decision to seek the life of a sailor."
As she listened, Georgiana understood meanings both spoken and not, and knew at once that Felicity's acquaintance with Mr. Stanton was more complex than the young lady wished to share. In the face of her friend's distress, Georgiana could only offer her heartfelt sympathies even as she tucked aside her suspicions with a mental note to discuss her thoughts with Elizabeth.
Elizabeth and Mary found their visit with Mrs. Littlefield a delightful experience. The apothecary's wife was much too sensible to be labeled a gossip despite her thorough knowledge of the lives of those she called neighbors. Mrs. Darcy found her a most helpful resource in her personal project and Miss Bennet thought her a source of endless amusing stories. Indeed, the two sisters were still chuckling at the misadventures of the blacksmith's youngest son and his newest puppy when they spied the figure of Mr. Stanton heading towards the direction from whence they came. The gentleman, however, seemed quite unaware of their presence on the path until he was in danger of crashing into them in quite the undignified manner. At Elizabeth's greeting, however, he stopped short and caught himself in time to prevent such a catastrophe.
"Mrs. Darcy! And Miss Bennet!" He bowed in a rather breathless manner.
"My goodness, Mr. Stanton," Elizabeth could not help but say after she had returned his greeting with a curtsy, "I do hope a great misfortune has not befallen your bookshop for you to rush in such a manner?"
"Oh no, Mrs. Darcy, the shop is quite in one piece, I assure you. Indeed, I had just received a copy of A Treatise on the Wealth, Power, and Resources of the British Empire that perhaps may be of interest to you and Mr. Darcy. As for Miss Bennet, I do believe Miss Darcy found a few pieces of music that she will no doubt share with you."
"Ah, yes, Georgie did mention that she would accompany Felicity today on the important errand of replenishing our writing supplies for the children…I am surprised that you are now on the path, Mr. Stanton, for I know both young ladies are quite fond of reading and would no doubt make your shop a second home if they were able."
At such a comment, Mr. Stanton's agitation seemed to grow even as he cleared his throat, "You are much too kind, Mrs. Darcy. I fear the attractions of my humble shop pale in comparison to the grandeur that is Pemberley's library."
Elizabeth tilted her head as she studied the normally calm gentleman intently, "Perhaps 'tis well that Georgie had planned to have Felicity for tea tomorrow. Though I expect I shall lose them to the allure of the books."
"Then I must admit to some culpability in such a loss, for I informed them of a newly published collection of German tales but moments ago."
"Alas! Then tea will be a lonely affair; perhaps 'tis well that Mary has graciously agreed to be my companion for an afternoon ride."
"I did not know you were a horsewoman, Miss Bennet." Mr. Stanton turned to the third of the company who had thus far been rather quiet.
Mary shook her head, "Oh no, I cannot claim to great skill in the saddle. The animals my brother and sister keep are so fine that anyone who is fortunate enough to call upon them for a steed would look well in association."
Elizabeth laughed merrily, though certainly not maliciously, at her sister's modesty, "You do yourself so little credit, Mary. Your calmness does well to help you keep your seat; I suspect I am much too impatient to have been a good pupil as you have been."
"Surely credit must be rendered onto my instructors! For you, Mr. Darcy, and Georgie have all been most kind in your advice."
"Oh Mary," Elizabeth smiled gently, "I dare not call myself your instructor in the equestrian arts. Indeed, I suspect you shall be my tutor on our ride. Perhaps we shall ride into town to fetch the text you had mentioned, Mr. Stanton."
"Oh but surely the horses would prefer the freedom of the open fields to the structured path; it would be no trouble for me to deliver the volume to Pemberley, Mrs. Darcy."
"Ah, then do be sure to look in on Cook, she will no doubt have pies and cakes for your nieces and nephews."
"Well do I remember Aunt Sarah's treats during my youth; I shall listen to your counsel, Mrs. Darcy."
"Wonderful!" And with a smile, the ladies parted ways with that gentleman.
As the path brought them closer to Pemberley, Mary could not help but ask, "Lizzie, why do I sense that you had ulterior motives for bringing Mr. Stanton to Pemberley?"
"Whatever do you mean, Mary?" Elizabeth's chuckles, however, belied her apparent confusion.
"Do not tease so, Lizzie! I can tell you are holding onto some delicious secret; and you do have that gleam in your eyes."
"Oh very well, it can do no harm I suppose. If you remember, Mrs. Winthrope had asked for a brief word in private after last Sunday's service."
Mary nodded, "But I had thought perhaps it had to do with some scrapes of the children. Young Johnny certainly has been a most disruptive force during lessons."
"Hmm…not quite. She is more concerned about her daughter, you see. Felicity has returned from Greenwood quite well educated for a young lady."
"Indeed. Georgie finds her a delightful companion with whom to converse using the variety of languages in which she has been tutored. I believe Italian is to be her newest project."
"Quite. I fear I have sadly neglected my own education in such a realm. But I suppose I must make note, as Mrs. Winthrope had done, that Felicity is now a well-educated but also most eligible young lady."
A look of understanding dawned on Mary's face, "And does she have a particular gentleman in mind?"
"From your tone, Mary, I can tell that you already know the answer to that particular question. James Winthrope and Anthony Stanton, perhaps by virtue of their shared interest in books, though in different ways, became fast friends not long after the Stantons moved to Derbyshire. As she is in possession of a kind maternal heart, Mrs. Winthrope took great care to welcome Mr. Stanton into her home. The friendship between Anthony Stanton and Felicity Winthrope was no less than that he had with her brother and I suspect Mrs. Winthrope held tenuous hopes, even then, that such a friendship might blossom into something more tender as the years passed. But then…the youngest Winthrope ran away to join the navy and I fear Felicity blames Mr. Stanton for her brother's subsequent death. She does not appear to have forgiveness on her mind, despite the years that have passed."
"I now understand better the determinedly courteous manners Felicity has and the almost forced cordiality on the part of Mr. Stanton whenever we should visit the bookshop. Theirs is a sad tale it would seem. The perceived crimes of a friend perhaps cut deeper than those of a stranger."
"But in such a case the blame may be misplaced. Mrs. Winthrope confided in me that she had a distant cousin who had once served in the Royal Navy, even on board Lord Nelson's Victory. He left journals of the hard life aboard a ship but also the adventures he had. These volumes somehow were passed on to Mrs. Winthrope such that even from a young age, Barnaby was greatly enamored of the more exciting tales and cared little for the harsh realities recorded. Mr. Winthrope wished at once to spare his son such a life and his wife the anxiety that must come from worrying for her son's safety and so discouraged young Barnaby from such a pursuit. Alas that the spirited boy should decide to take matters into his own hands!"
"And so you have decided to play match-maker, Lizzie?" Mary's voice held no judgment but only mild curiosity.
Elizabeth laughed again, "And once again you ask a question for which you must know the answer! I have been observing them carefully, and I do not believe Mr. Stanton to be indifferent to Miss Winthrope. He has ever asked after her in the years while she had been away and had been her steady companion in the days after her coming out. Though they were both young and Mr. Stanton was but an apprentice to the bookshop keeper at the time, the Winthropes were quite prepared to give consent for a long courtship."
"But Felicity makes no mention of him if she can help it, and certainly has said nothing of their past friendship."
"But neither has she granted consent to an offer of courtship from a local landowner's son near Greenwood. I understand that his persistent attentions upon her person were one of her reasons for returning to Derbyshire."
"Is Mr. Stanton aware of such a suitor?"
Elizabeth shook her head, "I do not believe so, for surely he would take action if only out of jealousy."
Mary was more thoughtful, "Perhaps not. I think he is waiting for a sign of forgiveness from her. Though it pains him, he will receive her anger with only patience and hope."
"He does not seem to be the sort to be given to sudden acts, does he?" Elizabeth's tone was almost regretful, "nonetheless, as Mrs. Winthrope had enlisted my aid, I can only do what I can to provide opportunities for these two to patch their friendship."
On their return to Pemberley, Elizabeth and Mary found that their conversation was to be continued as Georgiana shared her suspicions of the interactions between a certain young lady and the local bookshop keeper.
Elizabeth had responded to her entreaties with a repeat of the story as she knew it and quickly gained two new helpmates in her agreement to Mrs. Winthrope's request.
When the next morning dawned, however, word came from the parsonage that Miss Winthrope would be unable to join Miss Darcy for tea as she had unexpected visitors to entertain.
The identity of these visitors did not stay a mystery for long, as a Mr. Robertson and his sister Guinevere made a visit to tour the famed estate of Pemberley but two days after their arrival in the region. As Mrs. Darcy was away with Mr. Darcy for a visit to their tenants, Miss Darcy and Miss Bennet had the pleasure of receiving these guests.
They found Miss Robertson, or rather, the soon to be Mrs. Palmer as she was to wed a friend of her brother's from Oxford, a quiet beauty who was perhaps a bit vapid in conversation. Nonetheless, she appeared a sweet young lady who expressed genuine happiness at being able to visit with her good friend Felicity. She was predisposed to think well of all that she saw and Georgiana happily accepted the many praises that were spoken with regards to the estate. Her brother, in contrast, had a shrewd look about him and a certain air of confidence born of a life of privilege. Mary, who found herself walking besides that gentleman as they traversed through Pemberley's extensive gardens, was surprised at his lack of arrogance. Instead, he spoke to her kindly and appeared greatly interested in various aspects of the estate and the surrounding lands.
Soon, however, she found the limits of her knowledge well-tested and could only say regretfully, "I fear I am a poor guide, for I do not hold the answers you seek; perhaps if you had visited at a different time, then my sister, as Mistress of the estate, could have satisfied your curiosity."
"But surely Mrs. Darcy cannot be so knowledgeable regarding the crops that are grown or the livestock that are raised?"
"You will find, Mr. Robertson, that Mr. Darcy holds my sister as an equal."
At the warning in her voice, he nodded, "Most extraordinary! So the rumors are true, that Mr. Darcy allows his wife the liberty of questioning his decisions?"
As his voice held no maliciousness but only wonder, Mary inclined her head, "They take great delight in their debates; he trusts in her opinions and she in his, though they may disagree on occasion. Though I daresay the tenants benefit greatly from such thorough considerations as to each decision."
Mr. Robertson only looked thoughtful, "And what of the tales I hear that Mr. Darcy married a country miss out of his great love for her?"
"That is a very personal matter, sir." Her voice was one of mild reproach.
"Forgive my forwardness, but I fear my curiosity is greatly piqued. My father had the good fortune to tour Pemberley in his youth and has ever held it to be a model estate and its master to be a model gentleman. I expect the son to be much the same as his father had been. That Mr. Darcy should be so unfashionable as to marry for love…well…surely you can understand the reasons for my questions."
Mary would only say, "My sister never cared for fashion, and particularly not when her happiness comes from reciprocating her husband's unfashionable tendencies."
"And the difference in their social standings does not cause much strife in their marriage?" He persisted.
"I should think ill-suited personalities and lack of respect are more common as causes of marital discord."
"Most extraordinary," said he again as their party arrived again at the main house, "you have given me much to think on, Miss Bennet."
Before Mary could ask for an explanation, however, Mr. Robertson turned to his sister, "We must depart now, Guinevere, if we are to join the Winthropes in time for tea."
Two days later, a troubled looking Felicity came to Pemberley. Directed to the creek bed in a more private portion of the gardens, she spied the Mistress of the estate in a state of ease. Elizabeth's shoes and stockings were in a neat pile at her side even as she allowed her feet to dangle in the cool waters. A plump peach in hand, she appeared quite content to bask in the quietness of her surroundings. Felicity felt saddened to disturb such a peaceful scene.
At her sigh, Elizabeth looked around and, spying her friend, smiled in greeting, "Felicity! What a pleasant surprise! I do hope you will excuse my improper attire." Reaching into the basket at her side, she held out another peach, "But the day was so lovely that I could not resist taking a moment to myself. Mr. Darcy accompanied Georgie and Mary to visit with the Nine Ladies and other stones at Stanton Moor, so I fear you shall have only me for company."
Taking the offered fruit in hand, Felicity settled herself on the large rock, "Did you not wish to accompany them on their trip?"
Elizabeth laughed, "Though I love my husband and my sisters dearly, I must own that I find days on which I simply wish to be alone to enjoy the sights and sounds of nature."
"Oh! Then I am sorry to disturb your peace."
"'Tis no trouble," Elizabeth replied firmly, "Now then, will you not share your thoughts"
Felicity sighed, "Am I so transparent?"
"Hmm...perhaps not, but Georgie and Mary made mention of certain visitors we had at Pemberley but two days ago, and from what little your mother had told me, I thought you might find yourself at an impasse."
Turning the peach in her hand but making no move to take a bite, Felicity nodded.
Allowing her companion time to gather her thoughts, Elizabeth's patience was well-rewarded when Felicity spoke. "Then you cannot be surprised to hear that Mr. Robertson has made me an offer of marriage but this morning."
"I expected as much after his visit with Mr. Darcy for advice yesterday."
Felicity appeared taken aback, "Did he?"
"Yes indeed. Mr. Darcy was quite surprised, I can assure you, to have someone seek his advice in such an area. He is no stranger to requests for aid in matters of estate or business, but an audience to provide his guidance in matters of marriage is new indeed and a situation with which I am not certain he is altogether comfortable."
"Mr. Robertson is quite the earnest young man." Elizabeth broke the ensuing silence.
Felicity sighed once more, "And quite persistent. In the three years I have known him, he has made me as many offers. Though the first two were for courtship rather than marriage."
"And will you deny him a third time?"
"I…'tis a good match, perhaps better than any young lady in my position may hope for, and he is a good man, of that I am certain. His parents have never looked down upon me when I would visit with Guinevere for the holidays. His other siblings are also quite welcoming, particularly little Frederick and Isabella. They are twins you see, and quite playful. No, the Robertsons have none of the conceit that others of the landed gentry may possess."
Instead of replying, Felicity declared, "I should not have returned! I fear I have given false hope in doing so…"
"I see. You must now choose between your old love and your new."
At such a blunt pronouncement, Miss Winthrope's shoulders sagged, "Love? I do not know if …I was but seventeen when Barnaby passed and had known him but two years. We were friends and, had things been different, perhaps Mama's wishes would have come true. But now…grief changes a person I think. I had met Mr. Robertson while I was still in mourning and had not the time to spare for his attentions. He is some eight years my senior and, though I was out, I felt but a child in his eyes. He was so calm in his certainty, even in the face of my rejection. He only nodded his acquiescence of my decision and we carried on as before, as friends…until another year passed and he asked me once more. I did not wish to be asked a third time and so returned home. I did not think he would follow me."
"Are you glad that he did?"
"I…I am flattered. What lady would not be? And Mama is surprised, but pleasantly so…His presence in Derbyshire is wholly unexpected…"
"But not unwelcomed?"
"No…not entirely so. In truth, I am heartened that his conviction has not wavered. His constancy is all that one could desire in a suitor. I am grateful for it."
"But gratitude does not love make."
"No…but what do I know of love? I am fond of him, of that I am certain, and I enjoy his company. Is that love? And surely marriage must be based on more than love alone."
Elizabeth was thoughtful in the face of her friend's beseeching expression, "I know not if I possess the answers you seek. I, who have married for what I perceive to be love, that combination of respect, trust, companionship, and something altogether wonderful for which love is a poor description. But I can tell you what my Aunt Gardiner had once told me. It is not a lack of love, but a lack of friendship that makes unhappy marriages**. I cannot urge you to accept or deny Mr. Robertson's proposal, for only you know of your own thoughts and expectations."
"Must I give a reply?" Felicity groaned even as she hugged her bent legs and rested her head on her knees.
"Alas, I fear it would not do to leave your gentleman in suspense. Even in consideration of your friendship alone, he deserves an answer."
"And if my decision should hurt another?"
"Is such a fear more concerning than Mr. Robertson's reactions to your reply?" Elizabeth asked sagely.
Felicity studied the rush of the water as it tumbled over other stones in its path, "Despite the guilt that must accompany such a proclamation, my answer is no. Do you think me horrid for saying such a thing?"
"I can only applaud your honesty, particularly to yourself."
"I had not considered myself so very changed, leastwise not until I returned home…but as the creek washes smooth the pebbles, so must I bear the wears of time."
"That is a sentiment to which I can heartily agree. After all, I had not thought that I would now find myself acting for you in the role that my Aunt Gardiner had for me not so long ago." Elizabeth gave a wry smile, "And soon the day will come when you will find yourself offering similar counsel."
Georgiana's response to the news was one of disappointment, "I had so hoped that they might resolve their differences."
"And they may still," Elizabeth noted, "I suspect Felicity knew not how to behave. Returning home after so long away must be like donning a dress from your childhood, though she has great fondness for it, it no longer quite fit her."
"And as her friends, we must honor her choice," Mary insisted, "Besides, 'tis not as though Mr. Robertson is an altogether ill choice."
"I suppose not…indeed, if I were to be objective, he may yet be the better choice. But surely Felicity cannot care so much for her material comforts; I cannot think that I have misjudged her so."
"No," Elizabeth was quick to reassure her, "you were quite right, Georgie, to think her a true friend. She has no mercenary intentions and was genuinely distressed at her decision. Despite the anger she has shown, I think she cannot so easily forget her friendship with Mr. Stanton. But she must make the decision best suited for herself."
"And Mr. Robertson is truly to be her choice?"
"I believe so. The formal announcement will no doubt be made soon enough."
"She holds true affection for him?"
"Why do you remain so doubtful, Georgie?" Mary asked.
Georgiana sighed, "I suppose I feel obliged to support my countryman and so look upon Mr. Robertson as almost an interloper."
"But Mr. Stanton has made no offer of his own; can he truly be counted as a contender?"
"I suppose not," was Georgie's grudging admission, "but he loves her, does he not?"
"We can only guess at the hidden secrets within his heart, for certainly we are not privy to the full details of their tale…" Mary cautioned, "perhaps he loves her only as a sister and felt only beholden to fulfill what expectations there might have been to allow his affections to be altered in time. Not unlike your brother and Anne, perhaps."
"Only brother always knew of Cousin Richard's intents."
Elizabeth put forth her thoughts, "Nonetheless, who is to say that Mr. Stanton himself is not confused as to what he feels for Felicity? Might not her decision free him?"
"'Tis all so complicated!" Georgiana exclaimed petulantly.
"Then 'tis well that her decision is not ours to make."
"Perhaps I shall stay at Pemberley as an old maid…"
"Though your brother may rejoice at avoiding another Season, I cannot offer my support. You must not give up your chance for happiness simply because of the unforeseen difficulties that might arise." Elizabeth's tone was sympathetic.
"I suppose not. Though 'tis sorely tempting."
"…Your sister is to be wed soon, I suspect. He is a good man who will treat her well, a gentleman in the truest sense of the word. He has travelled to Derbyshire in his determination to obtain her hand. I am happy for her…as I think you would have been. Though we were not destined to become brothers, your disappointment would have surely been easily eclipsed in the brightness of her joy. Though, I can admit that in secret, sometimes I do not understand how another can love her, is allowed to love her, since I love her so completely myself, so intensely, so fully***…But 'tis not to be. Too much has occurred, too many words left unsaid…and perhaps in my own inactions I have lost her…"
"I never did care for Werther, as well you know." At the sound of her voice, Mr. Stanton whirled around to face the speaker.
"Miss Winthrope." He bowed.
"Mr. Stanton." She curtsied, "I must thank you for your visits to my brother and for keeping my parents company in recent years."
"'Tis no more than my atonement," said he.
"And what sin have you committed that necessitates such actions?"
"Of late, I must admit to envy."
She looked away from his gaze and sighed. When she turned her attention back again, he felt only a sense of dread at the determination he saw in her demeanor. "So you know."
He nodded and smiled sadly, "I think I knew when you first went away that such a day would come and what wisps of hopes I had would remain only that. You deserve more than I, a humble shopkeeper, can give you."
"I am no longer the Felicity you used to know." She warned.
"No, you are a lady now…though it would have surely horrified your younger self to admit to such a truth." His tone was one of quiet acceptance.
"Truth…the truth is that I must beg forgiveness of one to whom I have long withheld my own. In truth, you do not require it."
Rather than address her request directly, he replied, "Misunderstandings and neglect occasion more mischief in the world than even malice and wickedness***…I wish you every happiness."
"I thank you." The gravity of her tone revealed well her acknowledgement of the pain such an utterance caused him.
Smiling wryly again, he said, "Perhaps I should plant a linden tree and drink of the tea made from its blossoms.+ It may yet sooth the scars unseen."
"Then I must reiterate my dislike for Goethe's earliest work. For I have no desire to be the Lotte in this tale. And I would hope you had better sense than hold the melodramatics of young Werther as an example of rightful doing."
At the disgruntled look on her face, so reminiscent of what he remembered of her expression when their friendship had began during a merry debate over the merits of that particular book, Mr. Stanton laughed in a far more cheerful manner, "And neither do I desire to be poor Werther! For I loved but a shadow and a thought++…a dream wrought of the expectations of others. I wish you the greatest joy, as Barnaby would have wished for no less."
Sunday service was an intriguing affair as the Robertsons' presence next to the Winthrope ladies caught the attention of all the attendants. As though he was aware of his congregation's inattentions, Mr. Winthrope was more brief than usual in his address. After the closing prayer, however, he paused a moment before stepping down from his podium. Smiling a bit sadly in the direction of his daughter, his voice rang throughout the church as he announced her engagement with the gentleman seated at her side. "'Tis a difficult task," said he, "to be not only the one to give her away but also the one to bless such a union. Nonetheless, I am happy to say that I find Mr. Phillip Robertson a worthy young man who will provide well for my daughter."
From his vantage point at top of the steps, Anthony Stanton gazed at the crowd of well-wishers that had gathered in the church yard around the blushing bride to be and could only smile sadly. A voice at his side made him turn in surprise to the young man gazing upon the lady with a gentle expression on his face.
"I thank you." Mr. Robertson said again, his voice all earnestness.
"Treat her well."
The two men nodded at each and, with the tip of his hat, Mr. Robertson made his way to join his betrothed. Mr. Stanton saw Felicity's expression brightening and sighed.
The weight of a hand on his shoulder made him pause again and turn to meet the vicar's kind gaze.
"'Tis a difficult thing you have done. My daughter will not say it, but I do believe your blessing meant more to her than even mine did."
"I only wish for her to be happy."
"I know, my son, I know."
* Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 43: description of when Elizabeth arrives at Pemberley with the Gardiners
** shamelessly borrowed from Friedrich Nietzsche
*** Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, The Sorrows of Young Werther
+ The linden tree was often used as a romantic symbol. Werther was buried beneath such a tree
++ I always did like this line from Lord of the Rings: "And yet, Eomer, I say to you that she loves you more truly than me, for you she loves and knows; but in me she loves only a shadow and a thought: a hope of glory and great deeds, and lands far from the fields of Rohan."