The Mistress of Pemberley

Chapter One


She did not want to awaken. It was warm here, warm and safe and everything comfortable. She pushed the voice away and swam back down into unconsciousness; but the voice, though gentle, was insistent.

Elizabeth, wake up.

It was a voice accustomed to being obeyed. She could not resist that voice. She opened her eyes, and saw the beloved countenance of her husband, dimly visible by the lantern-light filtering into the chaise. He was smiling. "We are home," he said.

The chaise door was already opened, and several servants stood outside, their breath rising in the dark cold air. Pemberley, at last, after the excitement of the wedding followed by weary days of travel. Home. Her home.

Darcy climbed out of the chaise and turned to assist her, displacing several lackeys eager to perform the same office. She gave him her hand and climbed down. She was conscious that the servants were all looking at her with great curiosity, but could not blame them; in their place, she admitted to herself with a smile quickly suppressed, she would have done the same thing.

Mrs. Reynolds stood in the doorway, a silhouette framed with light. "Welcome home, Mrs. Darcy," she said. "Your rooms are all ready, if you'll follow me, ma'am."

Elizabeth turned back, looking for her husband, but he was talking to the coachmen and directing the servants who were unloading the luggage strapped to the top of the chaise. There was nothing else to do but follow the housekeeper along a confusing maze of stairs and hallways until they reached the chamber reserved for the use of the master and mistress of Pemberley.

She had seen most of the public areas, the drawing rooms and the dining rooms and the gallery, when she had toured Pemberley as a casual visitor the previous summer. She had appreciated the house for its elegance and the natural beauty of the grounds, but she was unprepared for the grandeur of what was to be her bedchamber. It was a large, well-proportioned room; shadows danced in the furthest corners, kept at bay by the roaring fire and the arching arms of the two blazing candelabras. Elizabeth could hear her mother shrieking in her ear: Wax candles, Lizzy! How great a lady you have become! At Longbourn they had used wax candles in the drawing room, of course, but in the bedchambers they each had made do with a single candle of inexpensive tallow, the vague livestock smell of them hovering in the air long after they were extinguished. It was difficult not to be overwhelmed by so much luxury, but fortunately such impressions were easily dispelled.

"That," said Mrs. Reynolds, "is the bed that all the Darcys have been born in since the time of the Conqueror!"

The bed was a great Gothic monstrosity, all dark wood and leering carved figures that soared heavenward, with layer upon layer of thick draperies bundled back against the massive posts. Elizabeth could tell that the housekeeper expected a response, so she said, "It is a very handsome piece indeed."

Mrs. Reynolds beamed and moved toward a door in the far wall. "This is your dressing room, ma'am."

Elizabeth held her breath as she passed into the room, but sighed with relief upon entering. Here the Gothic had been banished, and all was airy elegance. She looked about her approvingly, and sent a silent prayer of thanks to her ghostly mother-in-law, whose portrait still hung on the wall opposite.

"I'll send the maid up, then, ma'am," said Mrs. Reynolds. She set down the portmanteau that Elizabeth had carried with her in the chaise and departed.

Elizabeth took off her bonnet and shrugged out of her pelisse, remembering too late that the maid would expect to help her with those things. She opened the portmanteau, but left the night things to the maid, and only removed a miniature of Darcy that he had given her upon their engagement. She placed the miniature on the dressing table. Now, she thought, this room is mine. She glanced at the portrait, and felt that her predecessor looked upon her with approval.

There was a noise in the chamber beyond, and she went to investigate; it was Darcy. "Here you are!" he said. "Finding your way about, are you?"

"Reynolds brought me up, but I believe I shall need a map and a navigator to find my way to breakfast in the morning."

He laughed. "I am at your service, Mrs. Darcy." He crossed to where she stood, slid an arm around her waist, and kissed her. "You must be fatigued. Why do you not get ready for bed?"

She clung to the lapels of his coat, treasuring this moment of affection. "I await the maid, but I should delay in any event. The idea of sleeping in the bed in which all the Darcys since the Conqueror have been born must banish peaceful slumber. I confess myself astonished that such an important piece of furniture has not been preserved behind glass, only to be brought out for its stated purpose."

He laughed again, but ruefully. "I see this house, and all it contains, so differently through your eyes. I thought the bed quite grand when I was a boy, but I suppose it is rather antiquated."

Not wishing to offend him, she fell back upon the aphorism she had used with the housekeeper. "It is a very handsome piece."

His eyes lit up; the Darcy pride, Elizabeth thought with an internal sigh, would always be part of his makeup. And it was not improper, not all of it. The master of Pemberley had much of which to be proud, and not simply because of the possessions contained within the great house. The house and its contents were but a symbol of the man she loved, who, she had at last learnt, was much more than the sum of his parts.

There was a soft knock upon the bedchamber door. Darcy released Elizabeth and called out, "Come in."

Georgiana peeked shyly around the door. She wore a nightcap and dressing gown and gave every appearance of having been roused from sleep. "Fitzwilliam? I am so glad that you are home at last!"

Darcy embraced his sister warmly. Georgiana turned to Elizabeth and said, "I am happy to welcome you to Pemberley, Mrs. Darcy."

Elizabeth reached out to the girl, knowing that her reserve sprang from diffidence and not pride. "My dear, we are sisters now; please call me Elizabeth, and may I call you Georgiana?"

Georgiana's face lit with a delighted smile. "Oh, yes!" As they embraced, Elizabeth looked at her husband over the girl's shoulder. The happiness in his eyes at the domestic scene before him warmed her. She knew, though he had not said so plainly, how much he wanted his wife and his sister to be friends. Elizabeth could not help being amused at her endeavours to make Darcy happy; it was not so very long ago that her energies had been exerted in exactly the opposite direction.

"I am sorry we woke you," Darcy was saying to Georgiana. "We decided to press on, even though it meant arriving very late, rather than spend another night at a posting inn." He smiled at his wife. "We wanted to be home."

Home. It struck Elizabeth anew; Pemberley was now her home. The idea would take some getting used to.

~ Continued in next chapter