The Mistress of Pemberley

Chapter Two

The first few weeks after their arrival at Pemberley passed very quickly for Elizabeth. The housekeeping itself was not difficult; Mrs. Reynolds had run the house so well for so many years that Elizabeth was not inclined to make any substantial changes. There was a particular way of doing most things at Pemberley, and The Pemberley Way was seen by all as the only possible way to do those things. Elizabeth was sometimes amused by the puzzled or horrified reactions to her most innocuous suggestions.

Darcy took her to visit all the tenants and labourers. They were universally welcomed, and it was clear that all had great respect for the master of Pemberley. Georgiana sometimes accompanied them, and it became equally clear that she was well-known amongst the very poorest families. Elizabeth could not help being surprised, knowing Georgiana's shyness amongst strangers; evidently she had depths that Elizabeth had not previously guessed at.

Mrs. Darcy had callers of her own; neighbours making their bridal visits, sitting for half an hour in the drawing room, all as curious as the tenants to see the new mistress of Pemberley. If they were surprised at the ordinariness of the former Elizabeth Bennet, they were too polite to say so; but over and over Elizabeth heard how pleased they were that the estate once again had a mistress, and hints of the hospitality and largesse formerly enjoyed under the auspices of Lady Anne Darcy.

Elizabeth had not needed these hints to understand the responsibilities that she had taken on when she married a Darcy. Darcy himself had never spoken plainly of such things; he had seemed to assume that she understood it all without having to be told; was she not, after all, a gentleman's daughter? Her mother had raised her to be mistress of some estate, though perhaps not one as great as Pemberley. Even so, Elizabeth had some hints of her new role during their courtship.

"What should I call you?" she had asked him a few days after their engagement was made public. "'Mr. Darcy' is rather formal for everyday use, and 'Darcy' without the honorific is very well for your gentleman friends, but seems sportive for a wife; and I would rather do anything than sport with you, sir."

"Call me Fitzwilliam," he had replied, amused by her teasing. "That is my name, after all."

"Ah, but when your cousin visits, I shall call out 'Fitzwilliam' and receive two answers."

"That is the cross borne by the Darcy heir. It is a tradition in our family for the firstborn son to bear his mother's family name. Our first son will be called Bennet Darcy."

"I've no say in the matter, then? I see how it is to be. The Darcy wife dutifully brings forth the heir, and all power of choice or comment in any other matter to do with the child is taken from her."

"If you really dislike the practice, Elizabeth, it can be disposed with."

"No, no. I should not dream of so offending the shades of Pemberley; besides, I like the name Bennet Darcy. But what if am to bear all girl children?"

"That will not happen," he said confidently. "There have been five and twenty generations of Darcys in England since the time of William the Conqueror, and there has always been a son to carry on the name."

"I must do my best to oblige you, then," she rejoined, and they went on to talk of other things; however, it left a lingering feeling of disquiet in the back of Elizabeth's mind. It had been easy to push it aside in the excitement of the wedding, but as she became accustomed to her new life, the disquiet returned.

As the end of November approached, Elizabeth began to think about Christmas. In the heady days of courtship, she had invited her aunt and uncle Gardiner to spend the holiday in Derbyshire, and perhaps Jane and Bingley could be persuaded to come for a visit as well. Realizing her ignorance of The Pemberley Way of celebrating the holidays, she rang for Mrs. Reynolds.

When informed of the reason for the summons, the housekeeper went into a rapturous recollection of Christmases past at Pemberley, enumerating the greenery, the wassail, the games, the puddings, the Yule logs. Elizabeth listened patiently for a time, and finally spoke when she was able to get a word in edgewise. "We will be having guests this year, Reynolds; my aunt and uncle, and possibly more." Belatedly, it occurred to her that she should discuss her plans with Darcy before issuing any invitations.

Tears glistened in the old woman's eyes. "This house has not seen such a Christmas since her ladyship passed, God rest her soul. Your guests will want for no comfort or amusement, ma'am. You may depend upon me."

"I know that, Reynolds."

The housekeeper retired, and Elizabeth went in search of her husband. She found him in his study with the bailiff; she would have left them, but Darcy called her in. "We are nearly finished. MacDonald, you have your orders."

"Yes, Mr. Darcy." The bailiff nodded politely to Elizabeth and said, "Ma'am," as he passed, and left the room, closing the door carefully behind him.

Darcy smiled at her. "Were you looking for me?"

"I wished to discuss plans for Christmas with you."

"Could not Reynolds help you?"

"Reynolds has been of infinite use to me, sir; I could not do without her; but I did not want to invite a houseful of guests without asking you."

"You are the mistress of Pemberley, Elizabeth. You may invite whomever you wish."

"And you are the master of Pemberley. I would not inflict unwanted guests upon you; not when my brother Bingley has told me how awful an object you can be in your own house on a Sunday evening when you have nothing to do."

He smiled at her impertinence, not remembering that he had once been rather offended by that suggestion. "We must invite Jane and Bingley, certainly."

"Certainly; and my sister Kitty is staying with them at present. I should like to invite her as well. Jane writes to me that Lydia has invited Kitty to spend Christmas in Newcastle, and, well--we should like it better if she did not go there."

Darcy's brow darkened momentarily at this reminder of his perfidious brother-in-law, Wickham, but he said only, "Kitty is welcome as well, of course. What other guests have you?"

"My aunt and uncle Gardiner, and the children."

"By all means; I should be delighted to see the Gardiners again, and Reynolds will be in raptures at the idea of small children in the house for Christmas. Who else?"

"I have no others. Have you anyone to invite?"

"I shall write to my cousin Fitzwilliam and ask if he can get a fortnight's leave from his regiment."

"I hope that he may. Well, if my plans meet with your approbation, sir, I shall write the letters directly."

Darcy hesitated, and then said, "There is one more person we should consult."

rule

The party gathered in the drawing room after dinner was a small but sociable one: Elizabeth, Georgiana, and her companion, Mrs. Annesley. The latter lady had suffered some trepidation upon the arrival of a new mistress at Pemberley, fearing it might render her superfluous; but the Darcys hastened to assure her that Miss Darcy still required her guidance, and Georgiana's own protests that she could not do without her made Mrs. Annesley quite comfortable again.

Darcy and Elizabeth had settled it that Elizabeth should broach the subject of their Christmas guests with Georgiana, who was too shy to truly enjoy having many visitors in the house. The respect, bordering on awe, with which Georgiana regarded Darcy might have compelled the girl to agree to a suggestion from him that she might secretly detest; she was more likely to confide fears in Elizabeth. Thus, Darcy lingered over his port rather longer than he would have liked in order to give Elizabeth the opportunity to broach the subject with his sister.

"Georgiana, do you remember my aunt and uncle Gardiner? You met them last summer."

Georgiana looked up from her sewing with a smile. "With much pleasure, ma'am."

"I am glad of it; I am going to invite them to spend Christmas with us here at Pemberley."

Georgiana blinked; an expression almost of pain crossed her features, but she said, "I look forward to seeing them again."

"I know how much crowds distress you, my dear; I hope that you will tell me if the idea is hateful to you."

"No, Elizabeth, of course not."

"I am also planning to invite my sister Jane and her husband. You know Mr. Bingley."

"Yes, of course."

"My sister Kitty is staying with the Bingleys, and will be included in the invitation. I hope you do not mind it too much."

Elizabeth's searching glance did not miss the way Georgiana bit her lip, but she said bravely, "I shall enjoy it above all things. I am happy that I will finally meet your sisters."

"You will like Jane, I am sure; she is quiet and gentle, like you; Kitty is a little closer to your age, and I hope you will like her as well."

"I am sure that I shall."

"Your brother will invite Colonel Fitzwilliam as well."

Was it her imagination, or did Georgiana blush at this? Elizabeth regarded the idea of Georgiana harbouring a tendre for her cousin with some amusement. Well, he wants to marry an heiress! She found it difficult to imagine Georgiana following the drum.

"I am always glad to see my cousin." Georgiana smiled at her sister. "We shall be a merry party, Elizabeth!"

"It is fitting that you will have a large party this year," Mrs. Annesley observed, "since Pemberley has a mistress once again."

"Of course," said Georgiana. "My father used to tell me about the great parties that my mother would invite. I think he would be glad to have it so again."

Darcy joined them at that moment, closely followed by Mrs. Reynolds with the coffee tray. The necessity of pouring out kept conversation at bay for a time, but when they were all settled with their cups, Darcy asked his sister if Elizabeth had told him of the Christmas party.

"Yes, sir; I look forward to it."

"Do you really, my dear?" he asked, looking at her closely.

"Yes. I am sure that I shall be comfortable with Elizabeth's sisters, and everyone else I already know."

Darcy was satisfied with her answer, and the rest of the evening passed quite pleasantly.

~ Continued in next chapter