Authors: Linda Berdoll
Copyright Â© 2006 by Linda Berdoll
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Darcy & Elizabeth : at home at Pemberley / Linda Berdoll.
1. Darcy, Fitzwilliam (Fictitious character)âFiction. 2. Bennet, Elizabeth (Fictitious character)âFiction. 3. Married peopleâFiction. 4. EnglandâFiction. 5. Domestic fiction. I. Title: Darcy and Elizabeth. II. Title.
Sister, Cohort, Friend
Come live with me, and be my love,
And we will some new pleasures prove,
Of golden sands, and crystal brooks,
With silken lines, and silver hooks.
The inestimable Jane Austen had penned only six books when she died in 1817 at age forty-one. Pride and Prejudice, her third work, was published in 1813 and has been judged by many to be the finest novel in the English language. The story of the courtship of the beautiful and spirited Elizabeth Bennet and the handsome but haughty Mr. Darcy is as brilliant as it is brief.
As remarkable a writer as she was, Miss Austen wrote only of what a respectable unmarried woman in Regency society would be privy to. Therefore,
Pride and Prejudice
concludes with the nuptials. Regrettably, in ending her story upon the very cusp of what undoubtedly would be a marriage of unrivalled passion, she has gifted many of her readers with an unfortunate case of literary
This hunger has spawned a prolificacy of sequelsâmost attempting to replicate the original in restraint, if not wit. Readers of sequels seem to fall into two categoriesâthose who are longing to learn what Darcy might have whispered into Lizzy's ear in their nuptial chamber, and those who fall into a swoon at the notion of such heresy.
If you, dear reader, happen to fall into the latter category, we offer this caution before you read further:
Hang on to your bonnet, you're in for a bumpy ride.
As our story recommences, all should be bliss within the Darcy household. At long last, Lizzy has birthed an heir and Darcy is again by her side. Motherhood, however, has not only rendered her busy and distracted, childbirth itself has left her temporarily “indisposed.” Although Darcy's heart aches for what his Lizzy has endured, it is not the throbbing of his heart that is most troubling to his serenityâit is the palpable pain in his loinsâ¦
New Pleasures Proved
To all the world, the month of June in the Year of Our Lord 1815 would come to be known as the season of Waterloo. To the members of the Darcy household, it would be called that, but not remembered as such. Far too many other events of greater personal importance to them had transpired to remember it so simply.
Although France was the conquered, England paid a harsh price for its victory. The county of Derbyshire was not immune to that heavy toll. So vast were the repercussions, they were felt even within the usually impenetrable walls of Pemberley. Lives were lost, marriages brought about, and babies born all in the space of a few months.
Having weathered these many woes within the bosom of her very own family, Elizabeth Darcy felt exquisitely compensated by the two babes nestled in her arms. Indeed, that her husband had survived war, quarantine, brigands, and pestilence and returned to her whole was all she desired. What wiles he employed and whose auspices he availed himself of as he trekked through the battlefields and drawing-rooms of France to accomplish his mission of rescuing his sister was of no importance to her. Of even less concern was that the emissary he chose to send word to her of his progress was a woman with whom he had once shared uncommon intimacy. Indeed, when at last he had returned to his wife's waiting arms, all question of his connection with that beautiful woman was forgot. At least at first, but not for long.
Of even less importance was whether George Wickham was actually dead and buried or gallivanting about the Continent.
Whilst Wickham's fate remained unknown, there were other vexations. What with Mrs. Darcy labouring to withstand a growing curiosity (approaching to eclipse the Alps in dimension) as to just what went on between her husband and his fetching French emissary, and Mr. Darcy labouring with equal vigour to withstand a desire for his nursing wife aroused to a similar degree, a dance of uncommon peculiarity commenced.
It extended well into the next year.
Mr. Darcy's Dilemma
In the year '15, Fitzwilliam Darcy was five years more than thirty. Yet, save for a smattering of grey begging to invade his side-whiskers, neither his figure nor his bearing had been influenced unfavourably by time or its toll. He was still a tall, handsome-featured man of good leg. However, his impressive aspect had recently begun to be worried by a single fault.
The imposing manner he had struggled with such resolve to vanquish in order to win Elizabeth Bennet's hand had resurfaced with a vengeance. Indeed, never was a chin more imperious, the turn of a countenance more proud. It was as if he once again stood, with all arrogance and disdain, at that country ball in Meryton absolutely refusing to dance. Granted, this supercilious turn was little noticed by those outside his immediate circle. He had always been reticent, but while he had once used a shield of arrogance to defend his social discomfort, this was an unease of a different sort.
On a fine day in autumn, decorum forced Mr. Darcy to engage in polite discourse with a gathering of neighbours. As was his habit, he stood transfixed as if a fastidiously tailored statue, with both hands in graceful repose behind an extraordinarily straight back. As Master of Pemberley Hall and a generous portion of Derbyshire County, his lack of a title was rendered irrelevant to those who kept account of such matters. His attitude rarely altered upon these public occasions. He presented himself by resting his weight on one foot, the other slightly foremost. Although in this posture his highly polished boots were seen to great advantage, it was not an airâit was a statement of eminence.
The statement of societal eminence
overt, but with this stance came an additional announcementâone quite explicit. For from those tall boot-tops up-welled a pair of legs bearing the unmistakable muscularity particular to one who devoted a good many hours to riding his horse. Moreover, his fashionable moleskin breeches bore an unambiguous bulge which did not originate (unlike those of many fashionable young bloods) from a carefully wadded shirt-tail. Given all that and the casual grace with which Mr. Darcy moved, there could be absolutely no supposition that concurrent to holding the offices of wealth and leisure was Mr. Darcy any part of a fop.
The only visible evidence of the horrors he had encountered upon his bold excursion to rescue his sister the summer past were those silver threads infiltrating his side-whiskers. (Behind the backs of hands, a few cynics suggested that embarking upon such a venture alone rather than sending his men was proof that Mr. Darcy was simply barking mad.) But it was of little importance to him that his actions were believed to be in any way heroic. Indeed, he would have cared not at all had he heard the twittering, but as it was, Mr. Darcy's ears heard little. They were recovering yet from a near-miss by a blunderbuss. As a man whose fortune was exceeded only by his pride, this loss of hearing was a closely guarded confidence.
Herein, providence did bestow some fortune. This, because for the whole of his life Mr. Darcy had been understood to regard idle conversation with undue wariness. When forced to converse, he often did so in monosyllables. It was said that he would but utter a word when he could not safely escape with a nod. A nod, offered with a soupÃ§on of cunning, said volumesâparticularly when one heard little of the conversation.
Waterloo and its aftermath still hung heavily in the thoughts of the entire population of the land. In the months thereafter, little else occupied general discourse. Indeed, although absolute facts were spare, gossip was rampant surrounding Mr. Darcy's mysterious pursuit across the Channel particularly, and his family's activities in general, during those months.
All of this prattle was not unbeknownst to Mr. and Mrs. Darcy. That was the true impetus for them to endure society's demands to see and be seen in the difficult months that followed Darcy's return. They knew it was mandatory not to surrender to the urge to close ranks. The death of Elizabeth's father granted them at least a year's reprieve, but they dared not take it. That would have been a capitulation. In their absence from society every rumour that abounded would have been repeated and exaggerated. The trip from scuttlebutt to outright scandal was but a short leap. With every fibre of their beings Mr. and Mrs. Darcy abhorred this pretence of normalcy, but defence of the Darcy name demanded it. With all that, upon the occasion of such a gathering as the one they hosted that day, it was not in any way regarded as a party.
Regardless of the occasion, it was Darcy's habit to claim a place upon his lawn overlooking a particularly pretty prospect. It was only one of the many in his rather estimable estate, but it served a specific duty. Darcy was only able to tolerate the toadying by looking beyond the genuflection of kith and kin and taking in the view. The neighbours, who competed for audience before him exhibiting an adequate level of sycophancy believed compulsory towards a man of his station, were menfolk. Mrs. Darcy kept the ladies at bay with the proffering of ices and exhibiting the considerable charms of their younglings beneath the vine-covered loggia that adorned Pemberley's east wing. From amidst the male enclave came the predictable masculine talkâcrops, politics, and the weather. Although there was an abundance of discord to explore upon all these topics, it was Sunday afternoon, and this assemblage dared not offend the Sabbath with less than geniality. And Darcy, with inherent magnanimity, endeavoured to bid consideration to all, but favour to none. He bowed with such grace and nodded with such sufficiently aloof benevolenceâprecisely as he would had he heard every wordânot a soul suspected anything amiss.
Yet another sense beyond the auditory Darcy protected by claiming that view. He protected his sight as well. For thus engaged, he kept his gaze from alighting upon his beloved wife. The very sight of her had always soothed not only his manners, but his soul. Of late, that device had been little employed. He was quite unaware that this failure allowed his guests to note that his temper was far less amenable since his return. And that fanned further speculation. Although it would have been a great disappointment to the scandal-mongers, his appearance of being somewhat out of spirits was nothing as dramatic as having “been to the wars.”
It was quite true; in company he was often out of temper of late. However life-altering the throes of war had been, those memories did not ignite his pique. It sprung from a far less noble originâthe one ruled not by his heart, but a place a bit south and, for men at least, an often more influential regionâhis aching loins.
Hence, as the gentlemen of Derbyshire bobbed and weaved in deference to him as only free-born Englishmen could, little did they suppose that beneath that wall of hauteur, their dignified host struggled to kennel a most undignified hunger.