The Mistress of Pemberley


As someone who spent a great deal of her time out-of-doors, Elizabeth had always found the short days near the winter solstice oppressive. She walked every morning or took a drive around the park with her aunt and sisters, enjoying the cold winter sunshine while it lasted, though for her taste such limited enjoyments were never sufficient. However, she found that at Pemberley in the Christmas season, the long night were tolerable and even enjoyable. Surrounded by pleasant and beloved company, even her concern for Georgiana and the machinations of Caroline Bingley could not dim her pleasure.

The party gathered each evening in the drawing room, where the well-tended fireplaces and dozens of candles kept the long darkness at bay. Elizabeth exerted herself to ensure that all were entertained; she arranged games for the young people, card tables for those who preferred quieter pastimes, had Darcy's latest acquisitions brought in from the library and arranged enticingly on a table, and contrived snug groupings of chairs for those who sought a bit of conversation. As the mistress of Pemberley, seeing to her guests' comfort was her most enjoyable duty, and one to which she was well suited.

Her plans for a grand dinner party on Christmas Eve carried on. Jane and Mrs. Gardiner were helpful in this endeavour; Jane wrote out the invitations in a fine hand, and Mrs. Gardiner kept track of the responses. Mrs. Reynolds was in her glory with the preparations for the party. She put Elizabeth in mind of a battlefield commander as she directed her troops, a gleam of purpose in her eye. She told her mistress on a daily basis, "It's so good to have a real Christmas at Pemberley again!"


Elizabeth dipped her pen into the inkwell, tapped it gently to remove the excess, and added another line to her letter to Charlotte Collins. She would have liked to invite Charlotte for a visit, but Mr. Collins must be included, which would not have done at all; even Darcy's postnuptial good-nature would not long survive Mr. Collins' obsequious attentions. Mrs. Collins could not travel to Derbyshire in any event, being within a month of her confinement; a confinement that might bring forth the heir to Longbourn. Elizabeth had never grudged her friend Longbourn, but it was strange to think of Charlotte as mistress of a grand estate. Her pen hovered above the paper, and she laughed at herself. No stranger than I, the mistress of a grand estate!

A soft knock sounded upon the half-open door, and Elizabeth looked up to see Miss Thomas standing in the doorway.

"I am sorry to interrupt you, ma'am," she said.

"Please come in," said Elizabeth, welcoming her with a smile.

Miss Thomas was visibly nervous; she bunched her skirt in her hands, and would not sit down. "I have some news," she said. "It will come out soon enough, and I would rather that you heard it from me, rather than through neighbourhood gossip."

Several ideas ran through Elizabeth's mind, none good; Miss Thomas is a sensible girl, she reminded herself. She is not like— She cut off that thought; then, dismayed, allowed herself to finish it. She is not like Lydia. "What is it?" she asked gently.

"I am going to be married."

"But that is excellent news!" cried Elizabeth; then her disloyal imagination added, to Monty?

"Sir Anthony Forrest has made me a most honourable offer of marriage, and I have accepted it."

"Sir Anthony!" Elizabeth exclaimed. The gentleman in question was a middle-aged baronet whose estate bordered Pemberley. He had been to several of their evening entertainments, but he was such a quiet man that he hardly made his presence known. Every time that Elizabeth attempted to talk to him, he would blush and stammer something incoherent; she had taken pity on him and left him alone. It was difficult to believe that he had spoken with Miss Thomas often enough to convince her to marry him.

Miss Thomas was watching her anxiously. "I see that you do not think the match fitting."

"Oh, no," said Elizabeth, "though I confess myself surprised. I had not known that there was an attachment between you and Sir Anthony. Won't you sit down?"

Miss Thomas took the chair indicated. "I do not know that I would call it an attachment, precisely," she said. "I have great respect and esteem for Sir Anthony, which I consider more important than a violent passion."

Elizabeth could not help smiling down at her letter to Charlotte. "You remind me of a friend who expressed similar sentiments upon her engagement. At the time I could not understand how she could marry a man for whom she did not have a strong affection, but she has convinced me of her happiness with her situation." And Sir Anthony is no Mr. Collins, she added to herself. Such a marriage might not be to her taste, but if Charlotte could be content, no doubt a young lady of sense such as Miss Thomas could be so as well. "I do not know Sir Anthony well, but Mr. Darcy has a regard for him, I know."

"I am glad to hear it," said Miss Thomas. "I confess I have been concerned that you would think that I abused your kindness by hanging out for a husband amongst your visitors. I assure you I had no such aim in mind."

"I know that," said Elizabeth.

"I have not yet told Mrs. Gardiner. I do not look forward to it. She has been very kind to me, and I love the children and will miss them very much; but I have of late felt myself growing dissatisfied with my situation. Pray, do not think me ungrateful! I dare say I am not the first governess to find that teaching another woman's children has made her long for children of her own."

"Mrs. Gardiner will understand," said Elizabeth. "I know that she will miss you as well; but I think she rather hoped you would be able to have a family of your own one day."

"Indeed?" Miss Thomas' mood lifted visibly. "You have no notion of the comfort you have given me, Mrs. Darcy."

"I wish you every happiness, Miss Thomas, and I hope that when you are Lady Forrest, you will not consider it too much of a degradation to call upon a mere Mrs. Darcy."

Miss Thomas caught Elizabeth's mood, and she laughed. "I assure you, ma'am, that I shall never be so grand as to consider a call at Pemberley anything but the greatest pleasure."

"I am glad to hear it!"

After a few moments' conversation, Miss Thomas went back to her charges, leaving Elizabeth in a state of happiness—and relief—that surprised her. She realized that she had dwelt overmuch on the similarities between Miss Thomas' situation and her own prior to her marriage. There was no denying it: she had wanted a good marriage for Miss Thomas. I grow as keen a matchmaker as my mother, Elizabeth thought ruefully.

She examined her actions over the past weeks to determine if there had been anything in her demeanour that could have pushed Miss Thomas into an unwise decision. After some reflection, she was certain that she had done nothing to encourage Miss Thomas to accept Sir Anthony. She would rest easy in the happy and lively expectation of the friendly intercourse of neighbours with the future Lady Forrest: no longer a governess, beneath the notice of Mrs. Darcy of Pemberley. Now if she could only get Jane nearby as well—what a picture of true contentment!

Her feelings of satisfaction at this turn of events was such that Elizabeth indulged in a private moment of amusement, imagining Miss Bingley's reaction to the news, but she soon scolded herself for this unbecoming lapse and returned, smiling, to her letter.


When the gentlemen joined them after dinner that evening, Colonel Fitzwilliam took the chair next to Elizabeth. "I suppose you are proud of yourself," he said, grinning at her. "You've made an excellent match for Miss Thomas."

He showed no sign of disappointment, she noticed. "It is indeed an excellent match, but I assure you it is not of my making. I collect that Sir Anthony is to be given all the credit."

"Aye; Forrest can afford to please himself."

"As a younger son cannot."

Fitzwilliam smiled. "We shall see."

"This is most unfair," she cried. "It is clear that you have a wife in mind for yourself; Mr. Darcy has hinted at it as well, but refuses to tell me her identity. I will not be teased about it, sir!"

"I do not mean to tease you, Lizzy. I am not at liberty to speak of it, as I have not yet declared myself."

"Why do you wait?"

"I believe that the young lady in question is not quite prepared to receive my addresses."

He seemed to be hinting about Georgiana: a young woman, not yet officially out, certainly was not ready to receive the addresses of a man of five and thirty. "I apprehend that the young lady has a large fortune? I know that is a matter of great importance to you."

"Quiz me as you will, Lizzy," he said amiably. "You would no more marry unwisely than I. Since you have been so kind to inquire, yes, the young lady in question has been well provided-for; but more importantly, there is long-standing affection in the case."

"On her side?"

"I believe so, yes. On my side, certainly." He cast her a sideways, laughing glance. "Enough questions, madam! You shall not have it out of me in dribs and drabs. Save your arts and allurements for your husband; you may beguile him, but I am not so green."

"Very well, Monty, you and Mr. Darcy may keep your counsel. In my turn, I shall keep to myself the information I have about the young lady I believe to be your object, and her affection for you."

He looked his surprise. "How would you—are you so well acquainted with—no, I believe you to be mistaken, dear cousin."

So well acquainted with—? He could not be speaking so of Georgiana. "I see I have been mistaken," she said. "I beg your pardon."

He watched her carefully. "You have someone particular in mind."


"Now, you are being mysterious, Mrs. Darcy, and that will not do."

"I have my own counsel to keep, Monty. But really, you cannot go about flirting with every pretty young lady you meet and not expect to break a few hearts along the way."

"I do not believe I succeeded in breaking yours last year," he said, laughing. "You have observed all my flirting opportunities, let us call them, these past two years; the rest of the time, I was with my regiment. Do I come off the hardened rake to you, Lizzy?"

"Of course not; and Mr. Darcy has told me that I must make allowances for soldiers away from their barracks."

"Indeed you must. I confess that I become intoxicated by the charms of young ladies after so much time in exclusively male company; but I do not believe that I have importuned any of them. I have never so much as hinted that I might be thinking of making them an offer, and as I have had no angry papas calling me to account, I flatter myself that I have been successful."

"I dare say you have," Elizabeth said with a smile, and changed the subject. She stole a glance at Georgiana, across the room, deep in conversation with Miss Thomas and Kitty. She did not have the look of a repining female, that was certain; indeed, she was in particularly good looks that night, glowing and animated. Though Georgiana might have dreaded it, the large party assembled at Pemberley had been good for her; every day she increased in self-assurance. A handsome, well-bred girl with a large fortune would have no trouble attracting suitors—unless she were pining for a hopeless romance. Despite Monty's teasing, Elizabeth knew herself to be no matchmaker. She only wanted Georgiana to be happy.


A storm swiftly passed over Pemberley as they slept that night, and they awoke on Christmas Eve to a blanket of powdery snow, glittering under a bright sun. From the drawing-room window, it was a beautiful sight, stretching down to the river and over the hills beyond; but on the day of her first dinner-party, the mistress of Pemberley might be forgiven for viewing the snow with some disapprobation.

"I would not blame our invited guests if they stayed at home tonight," she said to Georgiana, who had joined her at the window.

"This will keep no one away, Elizabeth. The snow is very light. The roads will be entirely passable."

Elizabeth smiled at the younger girl. "I should think you would be pleased if everyone stayed home. I know how you dislike large parties."

"It will not be so bad, I dare say; it helps that it will be here at home, rather than in some strange place. Kitty is looking forward to it very much."

"And what young man is she looking forward to seeing here?"

Georgiana looked surprised. "None that I know of."

That was a new circumstance, for Kitty not to be interested in some young man or other. This was improvement unlooked-for and pleasant, indeed. Elizabeth stole a sideways glance at Georgiana, who was gazing pensively out at the snow. "And you?"

"I?" Georgiana shook her head and flushed. "No, no." She paused, and with an air of changing the subject, said, "Is it not wonderful news about Miss Thomas' engagement?"

"Wonderful indeed! I am very happy for her."

"Oh, so am I. I feared that she might fall in love with Monty, and that would not have done at all. He would have broken her heart."

Elizabeth looked at the younger girl searchingly. "Do you speak from experience?"

Georgiana looked her surprise for a moment, and then laughed. "You do not think I pine for my cousin? I confess I once found him—well, he was kind to me after—after Mr. Wickham."

Elizabeth understood at once. A young girl, thwarted in an affair of the heart, shamed by her own behaviour and mortified by her lover's inconstancy, had transferred her affections to the nearest proper figure. "I can see how that would happen," she said. "Monty is so much the gentleman."

"Yes. My brother was kind, but, well, he is my brother; and he could not hide his disapproval of my behaviour; not completely." She brooded a bit. "It was very naughty of me to think about eloping with Geo—with Mr. Wickham." Suddenly conscious, she looked at Elizabeth in alarm and added, "Oh, I did not mean—"

Elizabeth raised a hand. "There is no need to explain, my dear; it was equally unwise for my sister to elope with him."

"It all worked out well enough."

"Yes, well enough," said Elizabeth. Thanks to your brother, she added silently. Thank heaven he never had to perform the same office for you.

"I cannot say that my brother was unkind, but Mrs. Annesley was given very strict instructions on my behaviour and the company I was permitted to keep. I did not see my brother for several months afterward, but Monty got some leave, and came to London to visit me, and I suppose my imagination got carried away with me. It was stupid of me, I know."

"It was entirely natural."

"No, it was stupid—I was stupid, and silly. I knew it could not be, but I was weak."

"Weak?" cried Elizabeth. "You were a little romantic perhaps, but weak?"

"Being 'a little romantic' had already got me into a scrape. I cannot afford to be romantic. Do you remember that book I lent you? Did you read it?"

"I did, and—"

"Then you must understand, Elizabeth. I have a duty to my family. My own feelings are as nothing. How can I do less than to follow my brother's example?"


"I know my duty." Georgiana hastily kissed Elizabeth and ran out of the room.

That wretched book, thought Elizabeth. I should burn it. The poor girl!

She went up to her dressing room and pulled the book from the bottom of the pile where she had hidden it. She opened it, the French words swimming before her eyes, refusing to arrange themselves into anything that made sense.

She did not understand her own anger. After all, it was for the best that Georgiana not pine after Monty, who apparently loved another; what did her methods signify?

But how could Georgiana think that Darcy's affection was so easily discarded? Even when Elizabeth had first become acquainted with Darcy at Netherfield, though she had misunderstood him, she had understood the deep affection he had for Georgiana.

However, such affection perhaps was not best committed to a letter. Banished to London, to the care of a kind but strict lady, and with such books as Epictetus' available to work upon an impressionable mind, Georgiana could misunderstand Darcy's best intentions—and her own heart. It would be her job to make Darcy and Georgiana understand one another; she would begin directly her guests left.

Lost in thought, staring down at the open book without seeing it, Elizabeth was startled by her husband's voice. "Here you are! Jane and your aunt feared that you had run away. What book has you so absorbed, my love?"

To Elizabeth's consternation, Darcy took the book from her hands and opened it to the title page. His eyebrows rose, and he said, laughing a little, "Do not tell me that you've taken up with the Stoics, Elizabeth!"

"Georgiana lent it to me."


"Yes, sir; she seemed to think it would help me to better understand you."

"Did she, indeed?" Darcy shut the book gently. "I see that I must have a private talk with my sister."

"It was a well-intentioned gesture. She has had a difficult time these past two years."

"Yes, she has; and I have been no help." He looked at her, and it was as though a door had shut behind his eyes. There was a reserve, a secrecy that reminded her of the early days of their acquaintance.

"Fitzwilliam? What is it?" She laid a hand on his arm. "You may tell me anything."

"Elizabeth, you—" he struggled with the words, and finally held up the book. "You—do not think me—unfeeling?"

She laughed, relieved. "Indeed, no, sir; I am always conscious of your strong regard. It is a subject upon which you have been most eloquent."

He smiled, and the reserve was gone; he was her own beloved again. "I am glad of that, at least; though clearly Georgiana thinks me so."

Elizabeth chose her words with care, not wishing to offend him. "She told me that your demeanour was—different—when you were younger."

"So that is it." He turned the book over in his hands. "I suppose that is true; but it was necessary. My father, you see, was a good man. His generosity was unexampled. Perhaps too much so, for the unprincipled often took advantage of his good nature."

"Wickham," said Elizabeth softly.

"Yes, Wickham was one; but there were others. While my mother lived, she was able, by her influence, to protect him from the worst of their depredations. After her death, I tried to fulfill the same function, but I suppose my father considered me too young to give him such counsel. When he died, and the management of the estate passed to me, there were those who attempted to treat me in the same cavalier manner; thus, I was forced to be my mother's son, rather than my father's." He looked at Elizabeth, his expression bleak. "I have tried not to be unduly harsh; have tried to carry on the generous example set by my father."

"The tenants respect you, Fitzwilliam; you must see that."

"The tenants, yes. Respect tempered by fear, in some cases; but I would not have my sister fear me."

"This is only a misunderstanding," said Elizabeth. "She does not know you well, perhaps."

"No. No one knows me as well as you." He lifted her hand to his lips and kissed it fervently.

Only a few days before, Elizabeth would have wished for a more ardent expression of his affection; a part of her still might wish for it; but she realized that she no longer needed it. She was first in Darcy's thoughts and affections, now and always. To whom else would he be so candid about his father, and himself? That knowledge was liberating, and the trust he placed in her the more precious.

"I know you better than I did half an hour ago, certainly," she said, quizzing him a bit to lighten his mood, and perhaps her own. "As for Georgiana, you have an excellent opportunity to make yourself better known to her when we are in town for the season."

"Yes." He smiled. "You will assist me in that endeavour, I hope."

"Of course; however I can."

"In the meantime, we have guests to whom we must attend. Do you look forward to your dinner party?"

"With much trembling; I fear that I shall make some grand, unforgivable mistake that will bring the scorn of the neighbourhood down upon us."

"I am certain that you shall not," he said. "Besides, I think the attention of the neighbourhood shall be riveted upon Sir Anthony Forrest's engagement to a penniless governess."

"I am surprised that you did not think of him for Georgiana; it was not so long ago that you declared there were no eligible gentlemen in the neighbourhood, yet there was poor Sir Anthony within a half-hour's ride, just pining for a wife."

"He is too old for Georgiana," said Darcy, "and he was hardly pining. He had long declared that he would never marry. He has a younger brother, who in his turn has several sons, so the succession is assured. There was no pressing reason for Forrest to marry."

"I wonder, then, that a man of Sir Anthony's age and settled habits would take a notion to marry."

Darcy smiled at her. "Perhaps a few evenings at our fireside planted the idea."

"What can you mean, sir?"

"I mean, Mrs. Darcy, that Forrest may have observed my own contentment with the married state, and learned to regard the loss of his bachelorhood without the abject horror he had previously experienced at the notion; with an object for his attentions at hand, too, in the person of Miss Thomas, the outcome was perhaps inevitable. However, Forrest has been so long considered a confirmed bachelor that the affair will be a nine days' wonder in the neighbourhood."

"And what do you think of it, sir?"

"It is none of my business, I am sure."

"May I flatter myself that I have broken you of meddling in your fellows' romantic affairs, then?"

Darcy laughed. "Flatter yourself all you like, madam, if my flattery be not sufficient."

Elizabeth would have continued in that vein, but was stopped by a knock on the door. Glancing at the clock, she realized that it was time to dress for dinner. "That will be the maid," she said to Darcy.

The girl entered, stopped short in astonishment at the presence of the master in his wife's dressing room, and dropped a terrified curtsey. "Begging your pardon, ma'am, but you did say half past four."

"I have become superfluous," said Darcy. "Until tonight." He bowed formally over Elizabeth's hand, and as he walked toward the door, he added, "Now that I know you understand French, madam, I will only add: je t'aime." I love you.

Elizabeth's eyebrows rose; she glanced apprehensively at the maidservant, but the girl was busy about her mistress' gown and showed not the slightest hint of having comprehended even that elementary phrase. Well, if the master of Pemberley could be daring, so could the mistress. "Je t'adore, Mr. Darcy." I adore you.

He sent her a glowing look that made her shiver in delight; and then he was gone, closing the door softly behind him.

"Begging your pardon, ma'am," said the maidservant, in all the relief of spirits occasioned by the master's exit. "There was no need for you to ask the master to shut the door; I would have done it for you."

Elizabeth stared at the girl for a long moment, and managed to gasp, "Yes; I shall remember that," and fled into the bedroom.

Darcy had disappeared into his own dressing room; Elizabeth ran to the Ancestral Darcy Bed, snatched up a pillow, and buried her face into it to smother her laughter.


Despite Elizabeth's apprehension, neither the early darkness nor the new-fallen snow kept the Darcys' guests from gathering at Pemberley. The entrance had been cleared of snow and carpets laid, and with the assistance of a veritable army of liveried footmen, ladies in the thinnest slippers and filmiest muslins were inside the house before any depredation of draught or damp could assault them.

As Elizabeth had suspected, curiosity in the neighbourhood ran high as to whether the new mistress of Pemberley would uphold the standards of hospitality set by Lady Anne Darcy. However, she failed to account for the true goodwill of her neighbours, who were prepared to be almost as fond of Mrs. Darcy as they were of her husband. That goodwill would serve to ameliorate any small lapses of housekeeping, which, after all, were only to be expected of a new bride.

Fortunately, the guests were not forced to make any such allowances. Mrs. Reynolds' calm genius, as well as Elizabeth's anxious attention to every detail, made the greenery-festooned drawing room as warm and welcoming as anyone could wish. Even Miss Bingley unbent sufficiently to congratulate Mrs. Darcy on her arrangements.

Darcy's prediction also proved correct, as Miss Thomas made her appearance on her fiancé's arm, a sapphire and diamond ring that had belonged to several Lady Forrests sparkling on her finger. She received the guests' congratulations with a becoming blush, and several gentlemen were heard to declare Sir Anthony a "lucky dog," Colonel Fitzwilliam among them. He bowed over Miss Thomas' hand and bestowed a wink upon her that made her laugh merrily. Clearly she was husbanding no flame for Monty. Sir Anthony, for his part, could only stare at his fiancée in a sort of dazed amazement mixed with besotted admiration that Elizabeth was hard put not to laugh at.

Miss Bingley spoke a few words of frosty congratulations to Miss Thomas, adding a few more for Sir Anthony, who lapsed into terrified silence at so much sneering civility. Miss Thomas spoke low words in her fiancé's ear, patting his hand comfortably, and the hunted look slowly left his eyes; within a few moments he was surrounded by congratulatory gentlemen and restored to tolerable comfort.

Bingley managed to manipulate Jane to a spot under a hanging sprig of mistletoe and bestowed upon her a smacking kiss that made Jane blush and laugh. Young Mr. Manley, apparently wracked with jealousy, retreated to a corner where he poured his woes into the ear of an exceedingly bored-looking Caroline Bingley.

Elizabeth caught her father's eye, and they exchanged looks of unspeaking hilarity. Tonight, she would take his advice and enjoy her guests.

They went into the dining room, and many of the guests exclaimed in delight at the beauty of the room. There was nothing of fuss to the table; the simple elegance of Lady Anne's gold-edged porcelain and sparkling crystal warmly reflected the candles in the chandelier and on the sideboards, and hothouse flowers and evergreens added colour and fragrance to the display.

"It is lovely, Lizzy," said Jane, her eyes shining with happiness, though Elizabeth suspected that circumstance had as much to do with the fact that Jane's hand was clasped tightly in her husband's than with the room's decorations.

Darcy, at the top of the table opposite Elizabeth, caught her eye and smiled. Separated by the immense length of the table (which, for the first time in more than a decade, had every leaf placed in it), it would be impossible to converse with him, but no matter; he was hers forever, after all. She could spare him to the neighbourhood for the space of a dinner party.

When the table was at last cleared and sweetmeats and fruit put out, Darcy stood and addressed the guests. "I am pleased to welcome so many dear friends and neighbours to Pemberley. It has been too long since we have enjoyed such a gathering here, and I must give all credit to the maker of the feast: my wife. My friends, I give you the mistress of Pemberley."

"Hear, hear!" cried Colonel Fitzwilliam; the gentlemen rose instantly, and all of the guests lifted their glasses and turned to a very surprised Elizabeth. As her gaze traveled down the row of friendly faces turned to her, Elizabeth realized that the details of decorations and food were of no significance; the value of such a party at such a season was the pleasure of the company. She silently uttered a fervent prayer of gratitude: here was Jane, with her adored and adoring Bingley; there was her father, smiling at her with proud affection; her aunt and uncle, whose kindness was unexampled; Georgiana and Kitty, blossoming before her eyes from unformed, awkward girls into lovely young women; dear Monty, who sent her a flirtatious wink—another prayer of gratitude that he was there, safe with them, rather than huddled by a campfire in some hostile foreign battlefield; even Caroline Bingley raised her glass with a smile that was a trifle less cold than usual.

And Darcy, her beloved husband, the man who had given her—everything: not a fine house or riches and jewels, but all that truly signified. She could barely look at him; the affection in his eyes was overwhelming. Her heart full, Elizabeth could only raise her glass and say, "I wish you all a very merry Christmas."

"Merry Christmas," cried the guests, and the shades of Pemberley that might have been hovering nearby no doubt took comfort in the laughter that rang through the halls of the great house.


If you still are wondering about Monty's love life, keep in mind that I "borrowed" TeresaAF's Colonel Fitzwilliam for my story. Check out her stories at Elegant Extracts will understand. —Mags

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