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I hope you’re enjoying the story. I’ve not made major edits … it’s mostly been rewording here and there and changing from British spellings to American.
Want to go back and read the previous chapters?
Chapter 7 is here.
The trip to Pemberley from Longbourn took two days, with the group staying overnight at inns twice. There were two carriages in their caravan: one containing the family, including Georgiana and her nanny; and one containing the family’s personal servants and enough luggage to carry a week’s worth of clothing and other personal items. The wagon, which had been loaded with the remainder of the family’s trunks and other items they were taking to Pemberley with them, had been sent ahead of them days ago.
Elizabeth’s feelings about their travel were mixed. She enjoyed traveling very much. She had been to Pemberley before and had stayed in the same inns during those trips. Such was her personality that many of the innkeepers and their wives and servants remembered her. They were full of congratulations on her marriage and eager to be of service, making her time in their establishments easier.
However, this was the first time she had been to the estate since her marriage. She was eager to be there and see it from the point of view of a permanent resident and was thus very impatient with delays. Her family was kept in constant amusement at her exclamations and desire to hurry this maid or that footman or the coachman. In due time, her deepest desire was realized, as they pulled up to the magnificent house that was Pemberley.
Upon exiting the coach with assistance from Fitzwilliam, she was taken aback to see the entire household staff lined up on the steps to greet her. It took her so much by surprise, she stopped and stared for a moment before declaring, “All this pomp, for me? What can Mrs. Reynolds be thinking?”
“I think, Sweetheart, that she is welcoming the new mistress home.”
“I am not the mistress yet, not really.”
“No, I suppose not,” Fitzwilliam replied with a tilt to his head, “but you have taken charge of Darcy House, and I know you expect to here, as well. Mrs. Reynolds is giving you your due.” He lowered his voice before continuing, “You know there will be questions in the minds of the staff. They are too well trained to ask, but they will wonder at the speed of our union. Perhaps they will even be looking for evidence of a child. It is best, I think, that you are immediately recognized as a desired member of the household, and as the woman in charge of the home, in order to prevent problems in the future.”
Elizabeth was astonished. It had never occurred to her that anyone here at Pemberley would question her reputation in such a way.
“You are right, as usual,” she sighed quietly. “I had not thought of that. Well, let me assume my role now; lead on, my love.”
She took hold of her husband’s arm and allowed her father-in-law to present her to the assembled servants as the mistress of Pemberley. She greeted each one by name; many of them she knew from previous visits, but there were some who were new.
At the top of the steps were Mrs. Reynolds, Pemberley’s housekeeper, and standing behind her were Jenny, Elizabeth’s maid, and Mr. Reeves and Mr. Smith, valets to the Darcy men. Mrs. Reynolds, delighted at the choice Master Fitzwilliam had made and not knowing that his marriage had been arranged, enthusiastically greeted the newest member of the family.
“Mrs. Darcy! How good it is to have you home!”
Elizabeth smiled. “Thank you, Mrs. Reynolds. I am happy to be here. Never in my wildest dreams on my previous visits did I think I would be allowed to live here for the rest of my life. I am delighted with the prospect!”
The housekeeper, whose hands were held together to prevent her from becoming too enthusiastic, squeezed them together even harder. “I am so pleased! Pemberley has needed a mistress for a long time; I am certain that you will be every bit as much a blessing to the estate as Lady Anne was. I have enjoyed seeing your growth from a child to a young woman. My excitement knows no bounds this day!”
Laughing, Elizabeth pulled her in for a quick hug, before letting go to whisper, “Thank you. I will endeavor to make you proud.”
Mr. Darcy, seeing that the women were becoming emotional, took charge. “Mrs. Reynolds, I am sure that you ordered bathwater carried to our rooms when you first got word of our carriage entering the grounds. Perhaps we should go up and make use of it.”
“Oh! Yes, sir; I apologize. I do indeed have baths awaiting each of you in your dressing rooms. There will be a meal ready to serve in an hour. As you requested in your letter, I have had Master Fitzwilliam’s things moved from his old room to a suite.” Turning to Elizabeth, she explained, “Mrs. Bishop wrote to me that you share accommodations at Darcy House, but Pemberley has more than enough room for you each to have a set of rooms for yourself. There is a suite that the master,” she nodded to Mr. Darcy, “and Lady Anne shared when the old master was still alive. I have had that prepared for the two of you. You must let me know if it is not adequate.”
Mr. Darcy assured her. “I am sure it will be. Thank you. I know we are all hungry and eager to rest and to refresh ourselves with Cook’s fine fare. Thank you.” With a smile to the housekeeper, he urged Georgiana inside, followed by Fitzwilliam with Elizabeth on his arm.
In short order, the family was settled into their baths. After, they all gathered in the family dining room, where they feasted on a celebratory dinner. Cook herself had come out from the kitchens to inform the master and his family that while Pemberley had celebrated Master Fitzwilliam’s marriage while he was still in town, now that they were all at home, it would be celebrated again. Implied in this little speech was that Cook herself should have been the one to cook for the wedding breakfast, or at least an engagement dinner, and denied that, she was determined to make her approval of the match clear. Darcy chuckled to himself as she ended her speech, before he and his son and new daughter-in-law thanked her quite profusely. Once the cook had returned to the kitchen and the first course had been served, all the family members released their tightly held laughter.
“Father,” Fitzwilliam began, “I do believe we have been chastised.”
“I believe you are right.” Darcy laughed. “Elizabeth, what say you? Do you feel properly welcomed now?”
“Indeed I do. Cook is usually so quiet. Who knew she could give such a speech?” Elizabeth’s eyes twinkled merrily. It felt good to know she had the support of two of the most important of Pemberley’s servants. She had always enjoyed a good rapport with both the housekeeper and the cook; that relationship would serve her well now.
As Elizabeth began to slowly learn and take over the tasks of mistress over the next few weeks, she would repeatedly speak of her relief to be on such good terms with those two women. For, as it turned out, there was much gossip about Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam among the younger and newer staff members. The gossip in turn became insolence on the part of a few. Mrs. Reynolds dealt with most of it, as it was her maids that were the problem, but Cook had one or two of her own who disparaged the new mistress, as well. The day came, however, when Fitzwilliam heard of it, and Elizabeth was forced to take action herself.
One of the younger housemaids, a girl named Bertha, whose family had served the Darcys for generations, had heard rumors that the new Mrs. Darcy was not as high as her husband and his family. This gave her a disgust of her mistress and led to misbehavior on her part. She had already once or twice been warned by Mrs. Reynolds to cease and desist, but she ignored the warnings, not believing that she would be removed from her position. On this day, Mrs. Darcy asked her to bring a shawl to the blue sitting room, for it was a chilly morning and Elizabeth had forgotten to pick one up before descending the stairs to break her fast. Unbeknownst to Bertha, Fitzwilliam was to join her, and he entered the room behind the maid. When Bertha refused to “fetch and carry for a low-born woman like her,” his anger was every bit as great as it had been the morning after her presentation ball. Soon, most of the household knew of it, because his fury was released in a loud and harsh peal rung over her head.
Young Bertha cowered in fear before Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth. Mrs. Reynolds and a footman rushed into the room to see what the matter was, and when the housekeeper caught sight of the maid and heard the words of the master’s son, she sighed. There was nothing to be done. She had acted as she should; the rest was up to Bertha. It was apparent she had not heeded the words of wisdom imparted to her.
Elizabeth felt terrible that the situation had escalated to this. She knew how protective her husband was of her. She was aware that the staff was under her domain to deal with. She had given this particular maid the benefit of the doubt more than once, even though Mrs. Reynolds had suggested she be more forceful with her. And now here they were, in the exact position she had hoped to avoid. She stepped to her husband’s side and took hold of his arm, distracting him from his tirade.
“How long has this been going on, Elizabeth?”
“She has been warned at least twice. I was hoping that would suffice. Please, let me handle this,” she pleaded with him.
“She will not serve this house any longer. I am firm in this.” He gave her a stern look, one she rarely received from him.
“Please, I understand now how wrong I was to be lenient. Mrs. Reynolds cautioned me against it,” she said softly. “I am sorry, my love. I know how it upsets you when anyone is disrespectful to me. I am still learning to be mistress, and this has been a difficult lesson. I promise, I will let her go, but you must let me do it my way.”
Fitzwilliam looked at her for a long moment, then stared at the maid for a longer moment, death in his eyes. Finally, she felt the muscles in his arm relax a bit. “Fine. I will let you deal with it. You know my opinion.”
To Bertha, he tersely said, “Your family has faithfully served mine for years. Are there more of you who share the same opinions about Mrs. Darcy?”
“No, sir,” she squeaked, terrified to be addressed directly.
“I certainly hope not. Do not make the mistake of thinking my wife will be lenient with you again. I have agreed to let her deal with you, but she is aware of my desires. At the very least, you will be gone from above stairs. You might think about attending the next hiring fair, for I guarantee you, if she allows you to remain, I will be sure to make your life as difficult as possible should I catch sight of you.”
With that, he nodded to his wife, and strode from the room. He was surprised to see his father standing in the hallway, watching the goings-on. Mr. Darcy stayed his movement, silently encouraging him to observe how Elizabeth handled the situation.
Inside the room, Elizabeth cleared her throat. “I am sorry you feel the way you do about me. I can assure you that I am a gentleman’s daughter. Mr. Darcy arranged my marriage to his son; I had nothing to do with it. He saved me when I was in danger, and I have since come to realize that I am deeply in love with him, as he is with me. Master Fitzwilliam wishes you gone from Pemberley, and I am already aware that Mr. Darcy will support my husband in his desires. You see, he has done it before, on numerous occasions. Therefore, as much as it pains me to do so, I must let you go. I cannot have servants who do not respect me in my employ. You have been given multiple opportunities to improve your behavior, yet it has only gotten worse. Mrs. Reynolds will accompany you to your room to gather your things, and she will pay you the wages you are due, then I will ask a footman to escort you from Pemberley property, and you are never to return. Am I clear? Do you understand what I am saying?”
“Yes, madam,” the maid answered, in shock that she was truly being let go and escorted off the property like a common criminal. She opened her mouth to speak again, but before she got a word out, the housekeeper had her by the arm, almost dragging her into the hall and toward the servants’ stairs.
Elizabeth remained within the room, her stomach rolling. She wrapped her arms around herself as she tried to hold in the tears that threatened. In the hallway, Darcy and Fitzwilliam had watched the entire event. When he saw her arms come up, Fitzwilliam strode into the room to wrap her in his embrace. He led her to a settee, sitting down, then settling her in his lap as the tears began to flow down her face.
“Oh, Fitzwilliam.” She wailed into his neck, “I feel awful dismissing her like that!”
“Shh, my love, it had to be done; do not fret. You did well, and I am incredibly proud of you.” He held her, rubbing her back and whispering words of love and support into her hair and her ear. Soon, her tears slowed. Once she had calmed, he led her up the stairs to their room, where he spent the remainder of the day showing her exactly how proud he was of her.
Below stairs, in the servants’ hall, word quickly spread via the footman who had witnessed the spectacle that to disrespect Mrs. Darcy would result in termination. From that day onward, all the staff treated her with great deference, and in years to come would proclaim her the greatest mistress to ever rule Pemberley.
That evening at supper, Darcy suggested a picnic for the morrow, as a way to cheer Elizabeth. The entire family enthusiastically agreed.
The day of the picnic dawned sunny, clear, and warm, to the delight of all. The morning was spent by the Darcy men in conference with the steward, Mr. Wickham. Elizabeth was similarly engaged with Mrs. Reynolds, reviewing menus and learning how Pemberley’s manor house was run. Georgiana was, of course, occupied with lessons but greatly distracted by the activities to come when those lessons were completed. She was neither old enough nor mature enough to understand that the more she allowed thoughts of fun to distract her, the longer the lessons would actually take. This meant that they took far longer than they ought to have, to her dismay.
Finally, however, lessons and meetings were completed and the family gathered in the foyer to begin the trek to the chosen picnic grounds on the banks of the lake. The eagerness of the party to be out of doors, enjoying their play was a tangible thing, spreading to the servants, who could not hold back their smiles. They, too, had been given the opportunity to picnic, thanks to their new mistress. They must do so in shifts, as they had to complete their work before they could participate, but for many it was the first chance in months they had to relax and ignore duty for a brief time. It raised Mrs. Darcy greatly in their esteem.
In a very few minutes, the family was seated in the open carriage, heading down the path to the lake. Behind followed a cart containing the picnic things and two footmen to set it all up. Elizabeth, who retained her appreciation for the ridiculous, laughed at the pomp involved in such a simple thing as a picnic. She was determined to teach her new family to relax their hold on propriety within the family party.
Elizabeth could not see it, as his head was turned away, but her Papa George smiled at her laughter. He and Fitzwilliam both could see how much more relaxed she was here, at the estate, than she had been in town, and it pleased them both greatly. Neither ever said anything to her about it, not wanting to add to her distress, but both understood the anxiety she had felt these last few months. For her to feel comfortable enough to laugh and tease about their methods of conducting a picnic was heartening.
In another few minutes, they were disembarking the carriage beside the lake, and the picnic was being laid out. They had chosen an area populated with tall, mature trees, shading it well and making the picnic more comfortable. The stream that fed the lake was nearby, and the constant sound of the water flowing, added to the sounds of the birds and buzzing of the insects, made it a very peaceful place. Father and son immediately baited their fishing hooks and cast out into the lake, while the sisters wandered off to a meadow that lay on the other side of the copse to gather wildflowers to decorate their “table.” Once the servants had completed their work and returned to the manor, the family felt more comfortable in conversation. They teased and tormented each other with glee. For a time, Elizabeth and Georgiana joined Papa George and Fitzwilliam on the shore, talking quietly so as not to scare the fish away. After a while, hunger drove the entire family back to the blanket and the basket of food. Once it was consumed and the remains packed up, napping was the favored occupation. Finally, as the sun began to dip lower in the sky, they roused themselves to go back to the house. They would send the servants back out to clean up.
The day after the picnic brought with it neighbors, knocking on the door, seeking to visit the family and introduce, or in some cases re-introduce, themselves to the new Mrs. Darcy. All were delighted with her; she was such a charming and witty young woman, and it was clear to all that Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy was quite besotted with her.
Not all the neighbors had returned to the area, as of yet. The most prominent families were either still in London, or had travelled to visit relatives, taking advantage of the warm summer weather. In the end, it would be Christmastide before Elizabeth met them.
To be continued …