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The Governess & The Master

Chapter Text

The advertisement in the Hertford Gazette simply read:

“Governess wanted. A good situation in Derbyshire. Salary to be discussed upon appointment. Contact Mr Thorpe, 7 Allenham Street, London."

Elizabeth Bennet penned the address at the top of the letter she was composing to Mr Thorpe who Elizabeth assumed had listed the advertisement. After a few reviews of similarly listed jobs, Elizabeth was now familiar with what the job entailed depending on the choice of words used. If the family name was listed as well as their residence and the wage she would be receiving, this usually entailed a well to do sort that had enough to move among respectable circles. On the other hand, if details were scarce and there was a middle man to correspond with such as a solicitor or housekeeper, then it was almost guaranteed to be a titled family or one that was well to do that it was necessary to make the process of hiring strenuous.

Although Elizabeth sought a situation that would endow her well financially, she was not concerned about who would be the means by which she would now earn a living. With this thought in mind she continued the letter to Mr Thorpe listing the qualities that would make her outstanding from other eligible applicants, including her previous experience as a governess for two households.

The door to the library opened announcing the arrival of the only other resident beside herself who found refuge in the confines of this particular room. Elizabeth only looked up from her letter when the entrant addressed her.

“Any luck?”

Elizabeth smiled at her father who was advancing to the rocking chair by the window which faced the front garden. Mr Bennet enjoyed this seat not only for its comfort, for it was well cushioned or proximity to the fire which never seemed to die but also because it afforded him an advantageous view of the lane so as to spot any guests that might wish to intrude on the Bennet family’s peace. No matter the status of the visitor, Mr Bennet always considered any visitor an intruder.

“Are you certain you have never considered taking an occupation as a hermit?” Elizabeth had once teased her father. Mr Bennet had merely responded with a soft chuckle and clucked his tongue to show how he both enjoyed the teasing from his favourite daughter but also disapproved of being teased as such.

“If finding advertisements that seem to want to remove me further from Hertfordshire can be considered luck then I am in luck” Elizabeth’s smile broadened. She rose from the chair and joined her father near the window where she leaned on the bookshelf so that she was facing her father.

“Must you leave us?” Mr Bennet asked. He had this question a few times since Elizabeth had announced to the family that she was once again seeking employment as a governess. The first time Elizabeth had made such an announcement some three years prior, had resulted in a scene that, if Elizabeth possessed the talent of drawing as her elder sister Jane did, she would have captured the moment in a painting or perhaps in the style of the Hertford Gazette’s cartoonist.

~~~

It had been a cold, Tuesday morning in February and like many mornings in Longbourn house, breakfast was the scene of both chaos and peace. The ladies of the house, save for Elizabeth, Jane and Mary, were recounting the tales from the previous day’s visit to the nearby town of Meryton. Elizabeth and Jane were engaged in a conversation with their father who sat at the head of the table relaying news from the latest edition of the paper. Mary was similarly situated but was focused on a novel, no doubt procured from her father’s library. Unlike Elizabeth and Mr Bennet, who loved reading in the library, Mary preferred to read in her room and so only set foot in the library to borrow or return her latest fancy.

As breakfast carried on with Mrs Bennet, Kitty & Lydia being the source of most of the chatter, Anna, one of the two Longourn housemaids, arrived in the breakfast room to deliver a letter for Elizabeth. Had it not been for Lydia’s quickness of hand, as she was the most proximate to the door when Anna entered, the scene might not have unfolded as it did. However, as is the case whenever there is a secret about, it must eventually be revealed.

“Lydia!” Elizabeth reproached as she attempted to take the letter from Lydia with no luck. Mary who was seated between Elizabeth and Lydia narrowly missed being walloped in the cheek by Elizabeth’s hand reaching across to Lydia.

“Brighton? Who could possibly be writing to you from Brighton?” Lydia enquired drawing the letter further away from Elizabeth’s reach. This had prompted Elizabeth to stand up and come around the table to where Lydia was seated. However, Mrs Bennet had proceeded to add more vexation for Elizabeth by prying the letter out of Lydia’s hand and observing the address.

“Captain Gould!” Mrs Bennet exclaimed excitedly. “My dear is there something that you need to tell us?” Mrs Bennet said as she extended her hand to prevent Elizabeth from reaching the letter. If Elizabeth did not think huffing was undignified and akin to behaviour more likely exhibited by Lydia or Kitty, she would have stomped her foot and huffed out of frustration.

“Mama you need not concern yourself about who Captain Gould is or the contents of the letter.” Elizabeth attempted to be civil in the hopes of diverting her mother’s curiosity. However, Elizabeth knew that once Mrs Bennet’s curiosity was piqued there was nothing that would temper it until she had been satisfied. It was made worse when the subject of her curiosity involved the possibility of marriage for one of her five daughters.

“A man can only be writing to a woman for one reason,” Mrs Bennet continued ignoring Elizabeth’s attempt to procure the letter. Anna, who was still lurking by the door, looked decidedly afraid, recognising the mistake she had made in announcing the letter instead of waiting to hand the letter directly to Elizabeth when the family concluded breakfast. Anna now remembered that Elizabeth had asked her a few weeks prior to direct any letters addressed to Elizabeth to no other member of the family.

“Mama please?” Elizabeth pleaded as she sensed there was no recourse from the situation unfolding. Mrs Bennet proceeded to use her knife to break the seal and read the letter which was written as follows:

“Dear Miss Bennet

Mrs Gould and I are pleased to have received your letter expressing interest in employment as a governess for our two children. We would like to offer you employment for the amount stated in the advertisement with other particulars to be discussed upon your arrival. If it is agreeable, we can expect you to arrive by midday on the last Saturday of the month to commence your duties. A carriage shall await you at Brighton where you will proceed to our residence at Manning House. Ask for a Mr Pope in The Swan Inn. We look forward to your arrival.

Yours respectfully, Captain Frederick Gould.”

For the entirety of her reading of the letter, the only tell that what Mrs Bennet was reading was not pleasant news was the movement of her eyes which at first reflected the curiosity of one coming upon a new discovery but gradually widened and narrowed accordingly as she concluded the letter. Elizabeth felt uneasy as she registered that instead of her mother falling into a fit of hysteria as Mrs Bennet was prone to, she instead stared at Elizabeth as if she was truly seeing her for the first time. Mrs Bennet’s silence was not anticipated by Elizabeth, neither were the horrified looks shared by Lydia and Kitty who, in their excitement and curiosity had vacated their seats to join Mrs Bennet in the reading of the letter.

“Governess?” Lydia and Kitty chorused but once again Lydia had been the quickest to withdraw the letter from her mother whose hold on the letter had slackened. Lydia then proceeded to read the contents of the letter to the rest of the family at rapid speed as if through reading it again she would decipher the truth of a message that had no hidden meaning.

Elizabeth used the opportunity to look away from her mother’s teary eyes to look at the rest of her family who were also absorbing the letter. She was met with a mixture of disappointment, sympathy and confusion but worst of all was her father’s disappointment. Mr Bennet was always taciturn and rarely showed his hand like her mother but his brown eyes, so like Elizabeth’s own in their shade, never concealed his emotion. Elizabeth despised herself for drawing such an expression from them.

Though Elizabeth had repeatedly chanted the mantra: “this is for the good of the family” as she had sent out the letter of application a few weeks prior, she could no longer hold onto that justification. Elizabeth understood that regardless of the purity of her intentions, to her family and especially to her parents, seeking employment as a means to alleviate the family’s financial woes was a sign of how Longbourn’s meagre estate of two thousand a year was not sufficient to raise five daughters. Although not intended, Mr and Mrs Bennet would not view it as anyone’s failing but theirs.

“Governess?” Lydia repeated looking disbelievingly at Elizabeth.

“Lizzie, are you going to be a governess for this Captain Gould?” Kitty’s question followed as she came to stand beside Lizzy.

Mrs Bennet then proceeded to wail.

“Oh Lizzie,” Jane stood up to comfort Elizabeth. Elizabeth knew she should have confided in her sister and dearest friend, but she also knew that Jane would not take this as a slight.

“Ladies may you please leave your mother and Elizabeth and I alone,” Mr Bennet commanded quietly. Kitty and Lydia protested, pointing to the state of their unfinished breakfast.

“Take your plates with you,” Mr Bennet added. Any retort Lydia or Kitty had was swallowed as Mr Bennet levelled them with a look that showed the amount of patience he had or lack thereof. Jane acted quickly leading the young women to exit the room with their breakfast plates. Lydia mumbled something incoherent but made sure she was audible when she hooted “Governess? And I thought you were the smart one Lizzy!”.

“Papa, Mama…,” Elizabeth started when her sisters had departed but Mr Bennet held up his hand indicating for Elizabeth to resume her seat. Feeling that seating next to her father might appear as if she was taking sides, though the reactions of both her parents did not indicate any such cordiality, Elizabeth took what had previously been Mary’s seat in the middle of the table.

“How could you?” Mrs Bennet finally spoke having recovered herself. “A governess? What will everyone say? The daughter of a gentleman taking up a position as a governess. Do you have any idea how we will be ridiculed? No, how can you have any idea, you are always acting as if you are above the rest of society. So unaffected by how others perceive you. If you had any modicum of sense you would have never shamed yourself and the family by seeking employment.” Mrs Bennet’s face now resembled a shade of mauve and Elizabeth was afraid that if Mrs Bennet took another breath the seams of her bodice would rip from the pressure.

Elizabeth remained silent for she knew there was no wisdom in challenging Mrs Bennet when she was on a tirade.

“Mr Bennet this cannot be allowed,” Mrs Bennet continued looking beseechingly at her husband. “She is only eighteen and already she wants to be independent of us. How can she hope to ever be married if she is frolicking around England seeking employment?” Elizabeth resisted the urge to roll her eyes at her mother’s singular focus on her marital status.

“I do not think there will be any frolicking,” Mr Bennet started. Mrs Bennet looked at him disapprovingly.

“Now is not the time to vex me Mr Bennet,” Mrs Bennet warned.

“That is not my intention my dear,” Mr Bennet responded calmly. “I am only trying to highlight that such a position as a governess does not involve frolicking, for one is almost always confined to her employer’s residence.”

Elizabeth was not sure if Mr Bennet was being vexatious and thus siding with Elizabeth or if he really was merely stating a fact about being a governess. Whatever his intention Mrs Bennet did not receive his statement well.

“How is any of what you are saying relevant?” she said disbelievingly to her husband, almost knocking over her teacup. “Our daughter is about to bring ruin to this family!”

At this, Elizabeth’s previous restraint could not hold, and she finally addressed her mother. “Ruin? I hardly think that seeking respectable employment can be described as bringing ruin to the family. I might as well elope with the farmhand while I am at it, if a noble intention is equated to disreputable pursuits.”

“Now you listen here young lady!” Mrs Bennet proceeded to point at Elizabeth preparing to launch into another tirade. However, with an uncharacteristically bellowed “Silence!”, Mr Bennet stopped any more conversation between his wife and second eldest daughter.

Mr Bennet sighed and looked between Elizabeth, who was looking at her hands to try and stop the simmering anger at the unexpected reception of what she believed was good news and his wife who was now looking away from her husband and daughter.

“I am disappointed Elizabeth,” Mr Bennet proceeded after another heavy sigh. Elizabeth’s teary eyes met her father’s. He never called her by her full name unless referring to her in formal society or he was angry, which he hardly ever was. “Not in the fact that you applied for a position as a governess, but that you did not confide in us before doing so. Although I understand your reluctance, for this display has shown that it is not welcome news, but I would still have much preferred if we were made aware of your intentions.”

The words brought some relief to Elizabeth who knew that her father’s disappointment did not mean disapproval for her to take up the position.

“Your mother is correct,” he continued. Elizabeth suspected this was done to appease her mother rather than necessarily acknowledging the truth in her words. “You are not of majority and as such allowing you to take up such a position entails unimaginable risks. Who is this Captain Gould? What expectations does he have of you? Will you receive adequate remuneration?”

Elizabeth nodded in understanding, thankful that Mr Bennet agreed with Mrs Bennet about matters of practicality not those dictated by society such as how seeking employment would impact on her standing as a young woman of marriageable age.

“I wish I could provide more than I do,” Mr Bennet continued but at this Elizabeth reached and clasped her father’s hands trying to alleviate some of the guilt she knew her father felt at having failed to capitalise on the estate. “No Lizzy, that is a fault I cannot deny. The state of the estate is such that upon my death, I will leave you all very little. For all we know, my cousin Collins might wish for you to vacate this house at the moment he receives the news of my death.” Mr Bennet chuckled humourlessly and Elizabeth squeezed his hands even more. “That is why, although sometimes misguided, your mother seeks to see you all securely married to men of considerable fortune!” At this Mr Bennet laughed and smiled fondly at his wife.

Mrs Bennet still would not look at her husband but no longer wore the expression of anger she had earlier in the discussion. Even though this occasion did not call for it, Elizabeth cherished these moments when her father showed affection for his mother. Sometimes she feared he neglected her too much.

“So, Lizzy,” Mr Bennet smiled, now clasping her hands in his. “Although it breaks my heart to think of you leaving us, know that I am also very proud that you are willing to secure your future. And to both you and Mrs Bennet I say, what business is it of those in society who will ridicule or laugh? If they had half of the courage you possess Lizzy, then maybe our society would be much improved.”

~~~

The memory still brought a smile to Elizabeth’s face, even when she recalled how her mother ignored her for the rest of her stay at Longbourn until she embraced her so fiercely upon her departure that Mr Bennet had to pry her away from Elizabeth.

“O Papa, you know that I never truly leave you”, Elizabeth crouched beside her father. “I always come back do I not?”

As if also reawakening from the same memory, Mr Bennet smiled and rubbed softly at Elizabeth’s chin. He did not want to admit it but he knew that soon, rather than later, she would be leaving the family permanently to either take up a position as a governess or teacher on the Continent or to assume the role of a wife. After all Mr Bennet knew he had been the main reason why she had returned home.

Her employment with the Goulds had lasted a year after which Captain Gould was promoted to a post in the West Indies and decided to migrate with his whole family. Although the Goulds had extended an invitation for Elizabeth to continue her employment with them, for she had been outstanding with their children for someone inexperienced, Elizabeth was not yet ready to part from her family any farther than she already had. So, she had returned home to Longbourn for the first, but not the last time, for the position with the Goulds had awakened in her a passion to teach that she did not know she had possessed and also stoked her independent spirit.

Elizabeth had then sought another position as a governess for the Turners in Essex which had lasted for six months. The short period was owing to Mrs Turner’s sister, Margaret Bates who was a teacher at a French preparatory school, informing Elizabeth of a vacancy at the school for an English and music teacher. Elizabeth was not formally qualified and had never travelled to the Continent, but she had seized the opportunity, for it promised adventure. France was farther than she wanted to be from home but she could withstand that distance than the West Indies. Although not as proficient in music as her sister, Mary, Elizabeth’s love for music and in particular singing had secured her the position. However, Elizabeth had to return home in December of the previous year when Mr Bennet had fallen ill. Now that he had recovered, she felt it was once again time to move on albeit to somewhere closer to home than France.

“Who will be taking you away from us now and to where?” Mr Bennet asked.

“If this gentleman, a Mr Thorpe finds my letter of application to be to his liking then I will be working for his employer somewhere in Derbyshire. Mr Thorpe does not state that he is writing on behalf of his employer, but I have now come to understand how these letters are worded.” Elizabeth moved back to the desk to seal the letter ready for delivery to the post office.

“Well, if the family is of good fortune perhaps you may direct the gentleman’s brothers or cousins, if he may have any, to one of your sisters. That might please Mrs Bennet.” Father and daughter laughed.

“For it is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife,” Elizabeth quipped to which her father roared with laughter. Elizabeth was pleased to have elicited such a response and smiled as she made her way to the door. “I shall be sure to keep an eye open for any potential husbands for my sisters, father. In the mean-time let me make haste for the post office.”

~~~

Mr Thorpe’s response arrived three weeks later and with it came the confirmation of Elizabeth's employment with a Mr Darcy who resided at Pemberley. She would be responsible for two charges, whose names were not disclosed in the letter; a daughter and son who were both aged seven. She was to teach them reading, writing and arithmetic and depending on their progress, some French and music. Elizabeth would have loved to teach children who were not at the beginning stages of their education, for she had enjoyed teaching music to the young women in France, but she could appreciate an opportunity to nurture young children again. As was stated in the advertisement, her salary would be discussed when she arrived.

A week after the response arrived Elizabeth was due to depart for Pemberley. This would mark just over three years since she had received the letter from Captain Gould to take employment as a governess.

“I am so proud of you Lizzy,” Elizabeth’s elder sister Jane said the night before her departure. Jane was plaiting Elizabeth’s hair into a braid in preparation for bed. Their shared bedroom was dimly lit with the candles placed around the dresser and bedside table to better view the task at hand.

“Jane, you make me sound like I am an explorer about to venture out on my latest expedition,” Elizabeth smiled at her sister.

“If leaving the comforts of one’s home and familiar company can not be considered as brave as what the most adventurous of explorers do then I am not sure what else can be,” Jane stated securing Elizabeth’s braid with a ribbon. “I mean many young women, at least gentlemen’s daughters, would rather maintain the illusion of stability than seek a better situation in employment.”

“That is true Jane but many young women also value marriage and unlike my critical nature to the state, not all ladies, especially not gentlemen’s daughters, wish to jeopardise their security,” Elizabeth said. Elizabeth knew she was exceptional in not letting the desire for marriage dictate her behaviour. Although surrounded by a mother and siblings who spoke greatly on the matter, Elizabeth had always felt apart from the conversation. Not because she did not one day envision herself settled but she did not desire the security of marriage at the expense of her heart. Elizabeth wanted to love and be loved by the man who married her.

“Which is why I repeat that I am proud of you for being secure in the knowledge that you can enjoy the pleasures the world has to offer without solely relying on the capabilities of a man to provide those pleasures,” Jane continued passionately. Passion was not commonly exhibited by Jane but when it was, it always inspired Elizabeth when her spirits were low.

“Well thank you sister,” Elizabeth acknowledged the praise. “Although you should not allow Mama to hear you speaking such words. You might just lose your position as her most treasured daughter.”

“Shush Lizzy! Mama loves us equally,” Jane admonished, although her eyebrows furrowed slightly as even she could not deny that Mrs Bennet would not rejoice at Jane encouraging what Mrs Bennet had deemed “wild behaviour” on Elizabeth’s part. After three years, Mrs Bennet still did not speak proudly of Elizabeth’s occupation. To Mrs Bennet, Elizabeth’s employment was a necessary evil; on one hand she appreciated that it was of benefit to the estate to have one less mouth to feed but on the other she also resented that it shattered the illusion of the social standing she had always strived to maintain in Longbourn. Elizabeth had once overheard her Aunt Gardiner encouraging Mrs Bennet to understand that times had changed and some young ladies, even gentlemen’s daughters, now had to make their own way in the world.

“You will continue to write to me?” Elizabeth asked after some silent moments passed where the sisters were focused on their own thoughts.

“I will never stop for as long as we are not in each other’s company. And I might even include a painting or two to remind you of home,” Jane beamed at Elizabeth, eyes watering.

“I would love that very much,” Elizabeth’s breath caught.

Jane embraced her. “How I will miss you Lizzy.”

“And I, you,” Elizabeth responded, fighting to hold back tears. The two stayed that way until they had to part to retreat into their shared bed. They shared stories from childhood and laughed until sleep claimed them in the early hours of the morning.

Chapter Text

When Elizabeth was roused by Anna later that morning to prepare for the journey to Pemberley, she did so begrudgingly. The promise of adventure added excitement to her journey but leaving her family brought a deep sorrow that Elizabeth had now mastered to conceal from them. Following a late breakfast, a few tearful hugs, well wishes and promises to write from the ladies of Longbourn house, Elizabeth and her father made their way in the family carriage to her Aunt and Uncle Phillips’ house in Meryton. From there Elizabeth would await the stagecoach bound for Liverpool with a stopover in Derby. Elizabeth would then change for another stagecoach that would take her to the village of Lambton where she would be received by Mr Darcy’s coachman to make the final leg of the journey to Pemberley. 

The stagecoach would not leave until late afternoon, with most of the journey being by night to reach Derby in the afternoon the following day. However, Elizabeth did not want to leave anything to chance and preferred waiting at the Phillips’ home for the stagecoach’s arrival. Coachmen were notorious for leaving behind passengers.

Before seeing Elizabeth off Mr Bennet had gifted her a novel - Gulliver’s Travels

“Something to keep your mind occupied,” he smiled. His eyes were already brimmed with tears. 

Elizabeth returned his smile but found it difficult to speak, only managing to reach through the coach window to hug her father. Leave it to Mr Bennet to add humour and sentiment to her journey. The novel was a shared love for both of them. The copy held great significance for Mr Bennet as it had first been owned by his own father and now everytime Elizabeth set off for a new governess position he would give it to her as a conditional gift to bring back to him. For Elizabeth it was a good luck charm. 

“I will bring it back to you in pristine condition,” Elizabeth promised as she let go of her father.

“You always do my dear,” Mr Bennet’s smile did not quite reach his eyes this time. 

“Thank you, Papa,” Elizabeth tried to return his smile. 

Father and daughter were interrupted when the coachman secured the door preparing for departure. As the coach made its way out of Meryton, Elizabeth only looked away from the window when the town and Mr Bennet had disappeared from view. 

Settling in her seat Elizabeth offered weak smiles to her fellow passengers, a married couple and an elderly man who had all looked on curiously at the display with her father. To calm her heart already ailed with a feeling of longing for familiar company and surroundings, Elizabeth occupied herself with the novel from her father. It did not matter how many times she had read the book; she would always find joy in it. 

It was only after the coach had made its first stop in the town of Allthorpe, some 16 miles from Meryton, that Elizabeth turned her mind to her destination and in particular her new employer and home for the foreseeable future. Elizabeth knew the house would be grand but just how grand she would have to wait and see. Her Aunt Gardiner, who grew up in Derbyshire, had once mentioned Pemberley and how it was situated on a large estate. At the time she had not mentioned the family that resided there. Elizabeth wondered if the Darcys were recent occupants or the home was a family seat stretching back generations.

Nevertheless, Elizabeth hoped she would have the opportunity to roam the grounds and explore all that nature had to offer. One never quite knew what the working conditions would be as a governess. Each family had different expectations; with the Goulds, Elizabeth had been given free reign with the children which gave her the opportunity to come and go as she pleased but with the Turners, there was a strict schedule that had to be followed. That was partly the reason why Elizabeth did not hesitate to accept the offer to work in France. If the Darcys were a combination of the Goulds and Turners, Elizabeth would be satisfied. 

Another thought that occurred to her was the lack of reference to a Mrs Darcy. Elizabeth did not want to fall into the trappings of her mother who focused a great deal on the marital status or lack thereof of all in society but it was a detail that she believed Mr Thorpe would have mentioned in the letter. All reference was to “Mr Darcy’s children”. 

Soon, Elizabeth succumbed to the demands of her body with these thoughts present in her mind. She woke up occasionally when she was jostled by the coach stopping for the horses to be changed or at an Inn where passengers alighted or boarded the coach. Occasionally she conversed with one or two other passengers but mostly she kept to herself. 

After changing coaches for the last leg of her journey into the village of Lambton, Elizabeth took advantage of the light and read her father’s novel to distract herself from the pains of sitting so long in one attitude. When the coach finally reached Lambton, Elizabeth was grateful for the reprieve. However, this was short lived as upon enquiry at The Greengate Inn Elizabeth was informed by the Innkeeper that Mr Darcy’s coachman, a Mr Trent, had already arrived to collect her. The Innkeeper directed one of the serving girls to fetch Mr Trent from a shop nearby that he had ventured to while waiting for Elizabeth.

“Miss Bennet?” Mr Trent, a young man, much younger than Elizabeth anticipated for a coachman, approached Elizabeth where she was seated near the entrance of the Inn. Mr Trent was equally surprised at Elizabeth’s appearance for he had anticipated a governess who was much older as had been the case with the previous governess who had served Mr Darcy. Mr Trent regretted not having put much thought in his appearance. If he had known that he would be collecting a beautiful young woman, he might have presented himself better.

“Hello Mr Trent,” Elizabeth said, smiling at who she believed was Mr Trent. He in turn resolved that Elizabeth was the most beautiful woman he ever beheld. 

“I-,” Mr Trent said. He cleared his throat for he found that it was suddenly parched. “I am sorry for keeping you waiting. I was instructed by our cook, Mrs Price, to bring her back some products for the kitchen, so I thought to kill two birds with one stone. I did not realise you would arrive early.”

“Please do not apologise. I was surprised that we arrived much earlier than scheduled. I am happy to wait while you finish all your errands,” Elizabeth said to Mr Trent who could not maintain eye contact with her. 

“No. There is no need to wait any longer. I have all that Mrs Price needs. I will bring the coach around and we can make our way to Pemberley.” Mr Trent rushed out of the Inn nearly colliding with the patrons making their way inside. 

Puzzling at Mr Trent’s apparent clumsiness, Elizabeth moved her bags to wait outside. Elizabeth was grateful that she had found the person assigned to collect her, but she also wished she would have had a few moments to refresh before she met her employer. 

When Mr Trent returned, Elizabeth was surprised to see that he indeed was driving a coach. She had assumed, perhaps mistakenly, that her employer would send a hack chaise or a two-person carriage especially considering he did not yet know who Elizabeth was. Elizabeth was not one to be easily seduced by finery and decadence but even she could appreciate beauty when she witnessed it. She could only imagine what Mrs Bennet would say if she saw Mr Darcy’s coach which was decorated with seats not marred by years of use and a lack of repair as was the state of the Bennets’ carriage. Drawing the coach where two well-groomed horses, the closest of which Elizabeth could not resist but pat down. Elizabeth chuckled as she concluded that her mother would next want to know if Mr Darcy could be secured for one of her daughters. Sending two horses was surely a sign that he could afford to spare some from any farm duties. A luxury the Bennets could not afford.  For the first time in her journey, Elizabeth looked forward to a ride in a coach. 

“We will be there soon Miss,” Mr Trent informed her as he secured the door and made his way to the driver’s box. Elizabeth wished she could join him so she could better view the beautiful hills and fields she had seen but she had to temper that desire as she knew it would not work in her favour to be seen riding into her place of employment sitting with the coachman. 

Even with the restricted view of the coach, she took in all she could of her surroundings as they drew closer to Pemberley. Elizabeth found her spirits lifting even though the sun was slowly setting, taking away some of the light that would surely add to the scenery’s beauty. She had already etched into memory places to explore if the time permitted. 

“You might want to look out of the window to your left, Miss. We are coming to one of the best views of Pemberley. You won’t want to miss this,” Mr Trent shouted over the noise of the coach and horses. 

Elizabeth looked and spotted the house situated in the park. It was difficult to miss. It was certainly grander than any of Hertfordshire’s country houses that Elizabeth had visited. Rows of windows were dotted around the house whose facade Elizabeth could swear almost glimmered against the backdrop of the setting sun. Upon further inspection Elizabeth realised, the glimmer might have been due to the light reflecting from the pond near the house. 

“So what do you think?” Mr Trent asked. The coach had now stopped completely allowing Elizabeth to take in the beauty before her. Mr Trent descended from the driver’s box and approached the window where Elizabeth was peeking out, admiring the view. 

“I do not think anything I say will be satisfactory,” Elizabeth said. She resolved to try and bring Jane to this exact spot one day if the opportunity presented itself. Jane’s painter’s eye would enjoy all that Pemberley’s grounds had to offer.

“Best view in all of England, that is,” Mr Trent grinned. “I would say the whole world, but I haven’t travelled much outside Derbyshire so might be jumping ahead of myself there.”

“I would still say with all that I have seen, nothing compares to this,” Elizabeth said. Mr Trent’s smile widened. Elizabeth’s statement though had not been to only console Mr Trent of his assertion that Pemberley offered one of the best views in England, but it was also an acknowledgement on Elizabeth’s part that the view was unique. 

“I would be more than happy to show you around more than just Pemberley once you get settled and the warmer months roll in. I mean it depends on if Mason can spare me at the same time as you are free but I am sure that can all be worked out. If you are willing that is?” Mr Trent had avoided meeting Elizabeth’s eye as he spoke and now looked tentatively at her waiting for a response. To spare him any further discomfort Elizabeth returned a warm smile.

“That would be lovely. Thank you, Mr Trent,” she said. 

“No problem at all Miss Bennet. Anything for a beautiful lady,” he said. 

Elizabeth did not want to dwell much on the compliment but was nonetheless appreciative. Mr Trent seemed kind and his generosity to want to familiarise her with the house and local areas was already more than Elizabeth could have asked for. Perhaps he would be her first friend at Pemberley. Anything more was not of concern to Elizabeth. She never confused her position as a worker with her role as a marriageable woman. If it so happened that whoever decided to marry her would do so while she was still in employment, then Elizabeth had resolved that she did not have much control over that. However, Elizabeth would not entertain any notions with any and all of the opposite sex who expressed interest in her. 

Thoughts of marriage and romance were soon forgotten when the coach neared the house. By this time the sun had nearly disappeared behind the horizon and footmen were about lighting the torches outside the house. Mr Trent assisted her to alight the coach, helped her carry her bags up the beautiful stone stairway that led to the entrance and introduced her to the butler, Mr Mason and housekeeper, Mrs Reynolds. 

“Welcome to Pemberley, Miss Bennet. I trust you travelled well?” Mr Mason said perfunctorily. Elizabeth did not have an opportunity to respond to Mr Mason’s lukewarm reception as Mrs Reynolds interjected, shaking her head at Mr Mason and offering a warmer welcome to Elizabeth.

“It’s lovely to meet you Miss Bennet. Mr Thorpe told us to expect you any moment from late afternoon. Lennie, our gatekeeper spotted the coach returning and alerted us. I hope the journey was not too arduous. Travelling all the way from Hertfordshire!” Mrs Reynolds said. 

“Thank you, Mrs Reynolds, Mr Mason,” Elizabeth said. “Yes, the journey was long, but I thank God that it was not eventful. Mr Trent was also wonderful on the way here.”

“He is a lovely young man. Always so polite,” Mrs Reynolds acknowledged. 

Mr Mason in the meantime had proceeded to the door and waited for the ladies as they followed behind. Elizabeth was prompted by Mrs Reynolds to remove her gloves, pelisse and bonnet which were handed to a footman who had materialised to attend to this task. As directions were given to the footman by Mr Mason, Elizabeth took in Pemberley’s interior and had to suppress the urge to laugh at how most of Longbourn would fit in the entrance hall alone. A mural adorned the ceiling and even by candlelight its beauty was impressive. A large carpeted staircase led to an upper floor. Elizabeth was certain the railing was made of gold. All round were gold accents on the walls and curtains giving the room an understated elegance.

“What a beautiful home Mrs Reynolds,” Elizabeth managed to say after moments of absorbing her surroundings.

“Thank you my dear. More than twenty years and its beauty is still not lost on me,” Mrs Reynolds said smiling as she also became lost in the mural Elizabeth was observing. 

Mr Mason cleared his throat to bring the attention of the women back to him.  

“Mr Darcy and Mr Thorpe are waiting to meet you Miss Bennet. I will direct you to the drawing room. After your meeting the footman will direct you to your room, your bags have already been placed there. Mrs Reynolds will take care of any of your needs. Follow me,” Mr Mason said.

Elizabeth marvelled at how he did not take a breath. He reminded her of the stern school master at the boys boarding school adjacent to the school she taught at in France. 

Elizabeth followed Mr Mason to another section of the house, passing multiple doors and more items for Elizabeth to admire. Every item, be it a painting or sculpture or flower pot seemed to fit into the aesthetic of Pemberley seamlessly. Elizabeth tried to imprint as much as she could to memory so that she could share it later when she wrote to her family and also to prevent her from getting lost once she did not have the aide of Mr Mason and the footmen. Mr Mason left Elizabeth in the drawing room, the only instruction being for her to wait. 

She waited, scanning the room and its beautiful furnishings, among which was a piano, one of the finest Elizabeth had seen. Perhaps she would be teaching the children on this very instrument but considering the size of Pemberley, Elizabeth was certain there would be another piano, one less grand, for the children to learn on. Families like the Darcys were notorious for purchasing things for the sake of filling a space rather than utility. The drawing room Elizabeth was waiting in was a testament to that. Nevertheless, Elizabeth still hoped for the opportunity to play the instrument. 

After a half hour of waiting Elizabeth grew restless and gave in to her curiosity to walk around the room to closely inspect some of the furnishings and ornaments. When she found herself situated in front of the piano she reasoned that the instrument was calling to her. Elizabeth’s fingers brushed over the lid which was raised revealing the machinations that allowed for the instrument to function as it did. Hesitating only for a moment, Elizabeth took a seat on the bench and observed the music sheet displayed before her. It was not a familiar piece and the notes were intricate; that made it more of interest to Elizabeth. Although the fallboard was down Elizabeth could not resist the temptation to raise it to reveal the keys concealed beneath. She was not going to play, she told herself. She would only look. So instead she pretended to hit the keys following the notes of the piece before her. Even though there was no sound she could hear how the piece would sound.  

Elizabeth closed her eyes and slowly visualised playing a piece that was familiar. Her fingers brushed over the keys lightly not producing any sound, her imagination carrying her away to her days in France where she would showcase to her pupils. Elizabeth’s love for music had developed slowly. Where Mary had latched on to the skill obsessively as an attempt to have something of note that would distinguish her from her sisters, Elizabeth had not required much study to master the instrument nor to discover that her musicality stretched to her voice. Much to Mary’s vexation. It was a case of Elizabeth’s natural talent going against Mary’s skill. Although to Elizabeth there was never any competition. She simply loved music and music seemed to flow through her.

Elizabeth continued in that manner, oblivious to her surroundings until a throat cleared, jolting her out of her reverent state. In her panic Elizabeth screamed and leaned too far back on the bench. Hands secured around her forearms in a vice like grip preventing her descent to the floor. Elizabeth, whose eyes had closed fearing impact, slowly pried her eyes open to make contact with the blue eyes set into the face of her rescuer. Even in her state of panic, Elizabeth knew two things. Her rescuer was most definitely Mr Darcy and he was not very happy with her at that moment.

Chapter Text

“Miss Bennet, I presume?” Mr Darcy said matter of factly as he helped Elizabeth to stand upright. Once she had found her footing he released her from his hold and stepped back creating distance between them. 

“I am so sorry sir,” Elizabeth uttered, panicked. “Please know I am not in the habit of doing this. I did not mean to sit or touch or play. I was merely admiring. I am afraid I got carried away...admiring,” Elizabeth finished rather pathetically. 

Mr Darcy only stared at her, blue eyes narrowed and his annoyance reflected in the slight stiffness of his jaw. It did nothing to ease Elizabeth’s nerves.

“I really am sorry,” Elizabeth added, unsure of herself. She scolded herself for not having exercised more patience to wait for Mr Darcy without exploring his home uninvited. She imagined that if she looked in the mirror her face would most certainly resemble the colour of a tomato. She felt a concoction of mortification, guilt and utter bewilderment as to how her fortune could have turned so easily. 

“Take a seat,” Mr Darcy commanded, ignoring her apology. He moved to one of the sofas exuding the confidence one has when they are comfortable in their own home. 

“Do you need to admire the sofa before you take a seat?” Mr Darcy asked looking at Elizabeth incredulously when she did not move from where she was standing. Elizabeth was still too unsettled and so did not respond in an equally condescending manner as Mr Darcy had exhibited.

“No sir, it is just that -,” Mr Darcy raised his hand, ending any further words from Elizabeth.

“Miss Bennet, I am sure you know who I am correct?” Mr Darcy asked, looking like he had lost the very little patience he already had. 

“I am sorry?” Elizabeth was surprised at the line of questioning. The progression of this introduction could not be further from her imaginings. When Mr Darcy remained silent, clearly expecting her to respond to a question that was both insulting and puzzling, Elizabeth uncertainly offered a response. 

“You are my employer,” Elizabeth said although her delivery was more akin to another question rather than a true statement of fact.

“Good. You at least understand something. You will do well in future to listen when I command or make a request. I am a man of very little patience and I do not enjoy repeating myself. And seeing as you have already tested that patience with your earlier display I would do well if I were you to do as you are told. Now, please be seated,” Mr Darcy’s tone brooked no further argument. 

Elizabeth narrowed her eyes, forcing herself to hold any retort she might have had had she not been the subordinate. She stalked rather than walked to the sofa across from where Mr Darcy was standing and was annoyed further when she realised that Mr Darcy still observed protocol by allowing her to sit before he proceeded to do the same. The nerve , Elizabeth thought and this time she could not help rolling her eyes but she was grateful that Mr Darcy was not looking at her as he had started addressing a man whom until then Elizabeth had not noticed had been in the room. The man, who was slightly older than Mr Darcy, proceeded to take a seat on the other end of the sofa occupied by Mr Darcy. Unlike Mr Darcy who was now sitting stiffly looking away from Elizabeth, the man faced her and started speaking. 

“Miss Bennet, I am Mr Thorpe. I am Mr Darcy’s steward. We corresponded about this position,” Mr Thorpe said, offering Elizabeth a smile that was a welcome gesture unlike that of his Master. “I trust you travelled well?” Mr Thorpe asked. He did not miss Mr Darcy clearing his throat as if to indicate that the question was unnecessary. Mr Thorpe had been under Mr Darcy’s employ long enough to be comfortable to occasionally defy orders if he thought it best. This was one such occasion as Mr Thorpe knew what it was like to misstep on the job and did not wish to prolong Elizabeth’s misery any longer. After all Mr Darcy had instructed him to lead the proceedings.

“I did, thank you very much sir,” Elizabeth said. She also cleared her throat although in her case she was attempting to calm herself. “The coach ride was lovely,” Elizabeth offered a small, toothless smile that did not reach her eyes. Her anger had subsided but she could not shake the nervous energy that made her want to walk out of the room, back on to the coach and head straight back to Longbourn. She could admit her guilt and acknowledge her impertinence to have touched what did not belong to her but it did not seem to warrant Mr Darcy’s cold manner. Even her apology was not sufficient to thaw it.

Mr Thorpe continued noting Elizabeth’s reticence. “As I said in the letter, your position will entail caring for the children and seeing to their education. The children are already in bed so you will be meeting them tomorrow. Their names are Rosalind and Archibald or “Rosie” and “Archie” as they insist on being called,” Mr Thorpe noticed how Elizabeth’s countenance changed at the mention of the children’s preferred names. Her smile now reached her eyes. Mr Darcy, who had been trying his best to ignore Elizabeth, was also drawn by this change in her manner but quickly looked away again when she spoke. 

“What beautiful names. I will be sure to adhere to their preferences” Elizabeth said. 

Mr Thorpe was encouraged by this. The previous governess, Miss Hayworth, had always been at odds with the children as she had insisted on calling them by their formal names. Archie at one point had proceeded to scream, “Are you deaf or something? I said call me Archie!,” to which the governess had responded by slapping him. That was effectively her last day. 

“They would appreciate that,” Mr Thorpe said, stifling a chuckle at the memory of his Master’s son. “Rosie is strong with her arithmetic, reading and writing. Archie needs a bit more prompting as he is prone to be distracted as most boys his age would be. Perhaps he might enjoy learning music and French a bit more. Their schedule will be relayed to you tomorrow including your other daily duties. We do not want to prolong this meeting, I am sure after such a long journey you want to rest,” Mr Thorpe said. He did not miss his Master’s raised brow. Mr Darcy, especially considering the circumstances under which he met Elizabeth, no doubt did not care whether Elizabeth needed rest or not. 

Elizabeth, unaware of the implications of Mr Thorpe’s considerate action, smiled appreciatively. Mr Thorpe had to remind himself that he was happily married as he found himself admiring Elizabeth in a manner not befitting a married man. It was not helpful that her beauty was more pronounced when she smiled. Mr Thorpe wondered how some young man had not yet secured her. Mr Darcy, who had noticed Mr Thorpe observing Elizabeth cleared his throat again prompting Mr Thorpe to continue.

“There is also the matter of your wage. Your income will be 50 pounds a year,” Mr Thorpe said.

Elizabeth’s eyes widened at the mention of her wage and she could not help her next statement.

“Thank you, sir. That is very generous,” she said, addressing Mr Darcy. Her previous employers had not been this generous and she knew that many employers would not pay beyond 20 or 30 pounds. Mr Darcy did not acknowledge her gratitude but he did look at her directly for the first time with an unreadable expression. 

“You will receive your wages quarterly although this can be negotiated if there are any issues you or your family might be having,” Mr Thorpe said. “You will be reporting to Mr Darcy and myself if Mr Darcy is not at Pemberley. If either of us is unavailable Mrs Reynolds or Mr Mason can assist you depending on the inquiry. Like I said, more will be relayed tomorrow,” Mr Thorpe finished and looked to Mr Darcy, uncertain of whether his employer wanted to say any more before Elizabeth was dismissed. Mr Thorpe was certain his employer was not happy with Elizabeth but he could not understand whether that was entirely due to the events that had preceded or because he thought Elizabeth was wholly unsuitable. Whatever the reason, Mr Thorpe knew there would be some questions. Mr Darcy gave a slight shake of his head and Mr Thorpe continued.

“Do you have any questions Miss Bennet?” Mr Thorpe asked.

Elizabeth had plenty. The years she had worked as a governess had taught her to be prepared and in her small purse was a notebook with questions she would normally want to ask. Presently though her questions were anything but professional. To start with, she wanted to ask why Mr Darcy was not just reprimanding her for her actions instead of punishing her with his silent anger. She wanted to ask why he did not simply send her on her way if he was so repulsed by her presence. She wanted to ask why he could not find it within himself to understand that she had made a mistake, apologised for it and now simply wanted to end the mortifying moment. 

Elizabeth though only said, “Yes I do Mr Thorpe, but it is nothing that can not wait until tomorrow.” 

“Well then, I say welcome to Pemberley Miss Bennet. I will ask the footman to take you to Mrs Reynolds who will show you to your room,” Mr Thorpe said standing up and walking to the doorway. This left Elizabeth alone in awkward silence with Mr Darcy who was still looking away from her. 

Elizabeth resorted to picking at the loose threads of her purse, if only to avoid looking at Mr Darcy. Had she not been experiencing a different reality to how she had imagined meeting her employer for the first time, she might have complimented Mr Darcy on the beauty of Pemberley. She feared though that uttering anything might actually provoke him to reprimand her and she was not certain she was as prepared for that as she had earlier thought. However, while Elizabeth’s gaze had shifted downwards, her employer’s has now fixed firmly on her. 

Mr Thorpe returned with a young footman and Elizabeth followed him to the door. Before she left the room she turned to face Mr Darcy whose eyes had not left her. 

“I am sorry again sir for my transgression. I promise you that I will not be exhibiting such behaviour again,” Elizabeth said and left before Mr Darcy could respond.  

---

“This is why I do not advertise Thorpe,” Darcy said as soon as the door had closed behind Elizabeth. “A gentleman’s daughter she said? Well I would be ashamed if Rosalind felt at such liberty to observe another’s home in such a familiar manner,” Darcy stood up crossing over to turn the bench at the piano upright.

“I apologise for her behaviour sir. I take any blame. I should have ensured she had waited in the entrance hall,” Mr Thorpe said, his tone reproachful.

“You were not the one taking liberties, Thorpe. There is no need to apologise on that account, or for anything. I am concerned that we may have been tricked into hiring someone who is more qualified on paper,” Darcy said looking back at his steward. Darcy trusted Mr Thorpe, more than some in his circle and he knew that Mr Thorpe was not to blame for his latest employee’s actions. Both men had reviewed the numerous applications that had been sent by candidates. Advertisements had been posted in newspapers of various counties as Thorpe believed this would allow for a wider choice. There certainly had been a few who presented potential but Elizabeth’s application stood apart from others as she appeared well rounded. Her experience on the continent was balanced with her experience caring for children of Rosalind and Archibald’s age. Also, after Miss Hayworth, Darcy had thought a younger candidate would be better suited to the children. Now Darcy was doubting his decision.

“It was definitely poor judgement on the part of Miss Bennet sir, but I do not believe we were tricked. Unless she enjoys making up stories I think her experience is genuine. However, I can inform her that her services are no longer required if that is what you wish Sir?” Mr Thorpe said. 

Darcy pondered this proposition. He did not want to make another mistake as he felt he had with Miss Hayworth. She had seemed sweet and tolerant towards the children until they pushed her limits. 

“No, that will not be necessary,” Darcy responded. Part of him wanted to instruct Mr Thorpe to send Elizabeth on her way but he also knew he did not have the luxury nor the patience to seek another governess. “I will have to be more vigilant that is all. If her former employer allowed her to take such liberties, she will have to understand that this household is different,” Darcy said. 

Mr Thorpe nodded. After a brief pause Darcy dismissed him with the promise of meeting again in the morning. Now alone in the drawing room, Darcy allowed himself to reflect on Elizabeth. Save for her youth, Elizabeth was far removed from the image Darcy had always had of governesses since his late parents had employed his first governess. He had anticipated a timid woman, who was eager to please and less inclined to acting so liberally. 

He knew he would have to keep an eye on Elizabeth. His annoyance had not been at Elizabeth touching the piano; he was not so protective of it as it was only an instrument and was not his possession, but his sister Georgiana’s gifted to her on her 16th birthday. Rather he was opposed to Elizabeth possibly influencing his children to act in such a manner. He did not want to be issuing another dismissal.

As Darcy was interrupted by a footman advising him of supper, he refrained from dwelling on how his annoyance had also been induced by recognising the fine image Elizabeth had made sitting in front of the piano or how she seemed to awaken in him a desire he had not been privileged to entertain for some time.

---

After a bath and a much needed supper, Elizabeth sat in front of the desk in her new bedroom and began writing a letter to her family and a separate letter to Jane. To her family, Elizabeth relayed generally how the journey had been uneventful and exaggerated how warm the reception had been on her arrival. There was some truth in that after all since Mrs Reynolds had been cordial towards her. She did not need to mention her mistake with the piano, nor Mr Darcy. 

To Jane though, Elizabeth relayed every detail about her journey, the beautiful views around Derbyshire that Jane might one day enjoy painting, the splendour of Pemberley and the horrible encounter with Mr Darcy.

“... I fear I did not start on a good note, dear sister. What must Mr Darcy think of me? Perhaps that I am a fool. Regardless, I wish he had been more receptive to my apology for it was genuinely expressed. Alas, he was not to be swayed. I also fear that my mistake was not the only thing that made him so cold. I believe that is just his nature. I can only imagine you would wish to first meet Mr Darcy before casting your judgment. That is why you are the best sister one could ask for. However, I am afraid you won’t find any study of him to result in any redeeming assessment. He is a man who believes himself above his subordinates. After all, his pride could not allow him to accept a humble apology. 

In other news, I will be meeting his children, Rosalind and Archibald tomorrow morning. Mr Darcy’s steward, Mr Thorpe advised me that the children like to be called “Rosie” and “Archie”. If they are anything like our cousins Gardiner I have a feeling that we will become good friends or at least I hope they will possess that sweetness of manner which makes children amiable and as such easier to befriend. 

I have also written to the family but in case this letter arrives earlier, please give my love to them. I trust you will not disclose more than the general details of my journey.

Your loving sister,

Elizabeth.”

Elizabeth set the letters aside to be posted at her first opportunity. She looked around the fine room that would be hers for the foreseeable future. When she had initially been shown in, Elizabeth had believed it to be a mistake. Mrs Reynolds, who had relieved the footman of the task of showing her to her room, had explained that Elizabeth would be sleeping in the children’s nursery. She had expected nothing more than a single bed in the corner, not her own room which was apparently in the wing of the house that was the children’s nursery. 

This room was considerably larger than her shared bedroom at Longbourn. There was more than enough wardrobe space for her few belongings. The windows featured window seats where Elizabeth knew she would be trying to spend any spare time to read while soaking in the view. Even with the darkness now enveloping the Pemberley grounds, there was the promise of beautiful views. Along with the desk and chair situated near the fireplace, there was also a dressing table and a washstand in another corner of the room. The jewel of the room was the bed, which was framed by four wooden posts and white curtains that were draped loosely around the frame. Elizabeth appreciated this small feature. Despite the winter months rolling into spring, keeping warm was still a necessity. Also adorning the bed were luxurious pillows that promised a good night’s sleep. Elizabeth gave in to an unexpected giddiness and ran to the bed hopping backwards onto the mattress. 

Elizabeth giggled at her own silliness wishing Jane was there to enjoy the moment with her. As her mind turned to her family Elizabeth hugged one pillow, the loneliness from early in her journey returning. No matter how many times she had now left home, part of Elizabeth was tethered to Longbourn and no amount of luxury or the promise of adventure could stave that feeling. Perhaps it was more pronounced tonight owing to her less than successful meeting with Mr Darcy. 

Elizabeth was still troubled by their encounter and sensed that working for Mr Darcy would prove to be more difficult than she had anticipated. After all, his treatment of her had reduced her to feeling like an imbecile. Elizabeth though resolved that she would not cower at the prospect of a challenge from Mr Darcy. She consoled herself with the thought that she had already overcome her greatest challenge by choosing to become a governess; after all her financial needs could withstand her wounded pride. 


As she wished sleep to steal away her worries, Elizabeth pondered on how in another life Mr Darcy might have been a prospective suitor. She would be a fool to deny that Mr Darcy was a handsome man despite his air of superiority which made it difficult to find him cordial. Perhaps he might have visited Meryton seeking to acquire another estate and they would have struck up a conversation at many of the town’s assemblies. Elizabeth knew that women were not dissuaded by his status as a widower. Would she have been one of those women?  Remember your station Elizabeth. Entertaining such thoughts does no one any good, Elizabeth thought as her heart secretely yearned for a life where money did not dictate her situation.

Chapter Text

There was too much blood. Far too much blood. How could there be this much blood, Darcy thought.

“No,” Darcy uttered helplessly “Please, God!"

"I am sorry Mr Darcy. There is nothing more I can do. She has lost too much blood,” Doctor Moore said regretfully. The doctor’s blood-stained hands were shaking. 

“Anne,” Darcy said, placing a kiss on Anne’s ice-cold hands. “Anne, I am so sorry," Darcy said in a whisper. 

As if in response, Anne’s already limp body ceased the shallow breathing that had signalled her last attempt to hold on to life. 

From a distant the wails of a baby could be heard mirroring the gut wrenching one that erupted from Darcy.

Darcy woke up with a start, his nightshirt drenched with sweat much like on the fateful night he had lost his wife. His heart was beating almost painfully fast and he found it difficult to control his breathing to a steady rate. Not requiring the light, Darcy reached across with familiarity to pick up the glass of water on his bedside drawer. He did not have time to be concerned with the graceless way he drank the water with unsteady hands that left most of the glass’ contents on his nightshirt. Once his breathing slowed and his mind reconciled itself with the present, nightmare-less state, Darcy prayed for daybreak. He knew that the rest of the night would not bring him peace.  

“Good morning Miss Bennet,” Mrs Reynolds said to a groggy Elizabeth who was roused from a surprisingly peaceful slumber considering the events of the previous day. Exhaustion had aided her in falling asleep so quickly. Mrs Reynolds was opening the drapes which were letting in the early rays of sunlight. Elizabeth did not know if being awakened by the housekeeper was part of the benefits of working at Pemberley but she was not one to object. 

“Good morning Mrs Reynolds. Apologies, I overslept,” Elizabeth said. 

“No need for apologies my dear. You must have been exhausted, you did not even let down the curtains to keep warm!” Mrs Reynolds said pointing at the curtains still wrapped in their sashes around her bed. “A journey like that would knock most people out. Miss Darcy usually takes two days to recover when she returns from school,” Mrs Reynolds finished chuckling.

“Mrs Darcy?” Elizabeth asked curiously. Elizabeth had wondered whether Mrs Darcy was supposed to have joined them during the meeting last night. Perhaps a woman’s presence might have changed things in her favour. 

Miss Darcy ,” Mrs Reynolds emphasised. “The Master’s younger sister. Mrs Darcy passed away seven years ago,” Mrs Reynolds said while she moved about the room. 

“I am sorry to hear of her loss,” Elizabeth said. The absence of a lady of the house now made sense. Although Elizabeth was saddened by the prospect of meeting the children. Moments like these made her grateful for her own mother. Even when Mrs Bennet’s love manifested itself in the worst of ways, such as her obsession with seeing her daughters married to any man that so much as breathed in the direction of Longbourn, Elizabeth was grateful. After all, Mrs Bennet only meant well.

“She is resting with the Lord, all we can do is honour her memory,” Mrs Reynolds said with a sad smile. “Now let us get you dressed and do not worry I will not always disturb your mornings Miss Bennet. Lord knows this household is responsibility enough, but I thought you might appreciate some assistance getting dressed. You will be meeting your charges after all and it is best to make a good first impression,” Mrs Reynolds said as she ushered Elizabeth to the dressing table. 

Elizabeth reserved any more enquiries about Mrs Darcy. She was not yet familiar with Mrs Reynolds to comfortably ask the questions she wanted to. She wanted to know more about the late Mrs Darcy to better understand how she would care for her new charges. While working for the Turners she had been informed that the current Mrs Turner was the second wife. Mr Turner had lost his first wife to pneumonia the winter before Elizabeth had arrived, leaving three children who had felt the loss of their mother acutely. The Turner children had been fortunate to have a caring figure in their stepmother but Elizabeth had witnessed moments of tension when discipline was administered by Mrs Turner. Elizabeth had had to be the bridge between the children and their stepmother. 

She hoped that would not be the case again as there was no sign of Darcy having remarried. However, she could not guarantee that would be so for long. Men of Darcy’s status rarely stayed as bachelors or widowers. They needed to continue the family line and the only way to do so was through marriage. Unless, as in Mr Bennet’s case, marriage was not enough and a distant cousin had to step in to fulfill the duty of continuing the family line.

Mrs Reynolds helped Elizabeth into her dress and to pin her hair. She had recommended for Elizabeth to wear her newest dress to meet Darcy. Elizabeth wondered if the recommendation was a result of Mrs Reynolds’ knowledge of what had occured the previous night. She would be surprised if Mrs Reynolds did not know, after all at Longbourn news had a way of reaching the servants. Elizabeth did not doubt that Pemberley would be any different. 

Regardless of Mrs Reynolds’ reasons Elizabeth still wanted to make sure she did not have a hair out of place. Not for the sake of her charges who would most likely not take notice of what she would be wearing. Nor to please Darcy aesthetically. Elizabeth had mastered her professionalism and knew not to cross any boundaries that would confuse her situation as a subordinate. However, the disastrous nature of their first meeting, which Elizabeth had felt more than prepared for, made Elizabeth want to be extra vigilant. She was not one to care for people’s opinions because these opinions were never founded in truth. However, with Darcy, Elizabeth had an irrational desire to disprove any misconceptions about her that he may hold based on that meeting. Steady now girl, he is only your employer and you know yourself employers are not in the business of liking their employees, Elizabeth thought. The desire though did not go away. 

There was a knock on the door and a woman who looked slightly older in age to Elizabeth entered. “Master Archie and Miss Rosie are dressed, Mrs Reynolds,” the girl said. 

“Thank you Bessie,” Mrs Reynolds said with a smile towards Bessie. Elizabeth noted Mrs Reynolds’ warmth. It was encouraging to know that she was approachable. “Miss Bennet, this is Bessie. The children’s nurse. Any help you need with their care, Bessie will be on hand to assist you. Bessie, this is Miss Bennet. The new governess,” Mrs Reynolds said introducing the women that would be working closely to see to the care of the children. 

“It is lovely to meet you Bessie,” Elizabeth said. 

“Likewise Miss Bennet,” Bessie responded, reciprocating the smile although rather shyly compared to Elizabeth. 

“Shall we go and meet the children?” Mrs Reynolds asked Elizabeth. 

“Yes, I am eager to meet them,” Elizabeth said despite her nervous anticipation at the prospect of the children being anything like their father. 

Mrs Reynolds led Elizabeth and Bessie to the children’s day nursery. Elizabeth had only gleaned the existence of separate day and night nurseries from the few governesses she had interacted with while working in France. Most families only had one room where the child played and slept in, usually with an adjoining room for the governess. Once again the extent of the Darcy family’s wealth, although not revealed to her, was made apparent. 

Mrs Reynolds stopped in front of a door. “I will give you a proper tour when you have finished meeting the children but I thought I would indicate to you the night nursery,” Mrs Reynolds said walking into a small room. 

Elizabeth realised it was an entrance room for it was sparsely furnished with a simple settee by the window and two doors situated on either side of each other. 

“Most of your activities with the children will be in the day nursery but when they retire to sleep, these are their bedrooms. Master Archie’s room is on the left and Miss Rosie’s room is on the right ,” Mrs Reynolds said. “Bessie will be in charge of seeing to their night routine but you are not restricted from assisting,” Mrs Reynolds added, directing them back into the hallway. 

They arrived at the room Elizabeth assumed to be the day nursery. The room was double the size of Elizabeth’s bedroom with an assortment of toys and playthings. A table was in the middle of what looked like a dedicated work area with stationery and books. Seated at a smaller table in the corner of the room well into their breakfast were Elizabeth’s charges. The girl stood up excitedly, almost knocking over her chair, when the trio entered. 

“Good morning Mrs Reynolds,” Rosie said. The boy only stared at the trio and remained  seated. Elizabeth observed that their features were strikingly similar however, where Archie’s colouring was like his father, Rosie’s hair was golden. She approached the trio and asked, “Is that our new governess?”. 

Elizabeth smiled as she observed how Rosie bounced on her feet while awaiting a response. 

“Good morning Miss Rosie. Aren’t you excited? Did Mrs Price put something in your tea?” Mrs Reynolds chuckled while acknowledging Rosie’s greeting. 

“No Mrs Reynolds, I am just excited to meet our new governess,” Rosie replied innocently, her already wide smile threatening to split the corners of her lips.

Mrs Reynolds only shook her head in amusement. “Of course Miss Rosie. To answer your question, yes this is your new governess, Miss Bennet.” 

Rosie extended her hand and Elizabeth took it in surprise. She was not accustomed to her charges being so confident and forthright. Archie’s cautious, non-responsive attitude was what she usually encountered and she appreciated the warmth from the little girl. 

“It is lovely to meet you Miss Bennet. I am Rosie. This is my brother Archie”, Rosie said pointing behind her to her brother. “Please do not call him Archibald. He doesn’t like it,” Rosie said in one breath. 

“Likewise, Miss Rosie,” Elizabeth’s smile grew. She was warmed by Rosie’s reception. “It is lovely to meet you too Archie,” Elizabeth knew that she would have to work doubly hard to earn Archie’s trust. For now a simple greeting, though not reciprocated, would suffice. It also prevented Mrs Reynolds potentially provoking Archie by prompting the boy to greet Elizabeth. She preferred silence over a sullen greeting. 

“You are very pretty,” Rosie said. Her blue eyes observed Elizabeth curiously and seemed to arrive at a conclusion that satisfied that curiosity. “Our other governess was not so nice, will you be nice to us Miss Bennet?” Rosie asked earnestly. Archie seemed to take interest in Rosie’s line of questioning as he turned from his breakfast for a moment to look at Elizabeth.

“Miss Rosie!” Mrs Reynolds tried to admonish. 

“It is fine Mrs Reynolds,” Elizabeth’s voice failed slightly. Her earlier thoughts on the potential effects of the absence of Rosie and Archie’s mother returned. She crouched down meeting Rosie’s eyes. Something told her the next few words would define her relationship with the children. “Firstly, thank you for the compliment and secondly-,” the lump in her throat made it difficult to continue and Elizabeth had to pause. “Secondly, I promise on my honour that I will always be nice to you and your brother Miss Rosie.” Elizabeth placed both hands over her heart. Rosie in turn held out her little finger and Elizabeth returned the gesture by hooking her little finger around Rosie’s. Rosie’s smile returned. Archie turned back to his breakfast. Elizabeth knew this was one vow she would never break.

Mrs Reynolds, who understood the significance of the moment for Rosie and Archie, only hoped Elizabeth would truly be different from her predecessors. “You can finish your breakfast now Miss Rosie,” she directed Rosie back to her seat. It gave Elizabeth a moment to compose herself. “Bessie, you can resume your other duties. I will familiarise Miss Bennet with the nursery,” Mrs Reynolds said.

Bessie nodded and made to exit the room but found her path blocked by Darcy. 

“Good morning Sir,” Bessie said, surprised at his appearance. She still managed to remember her manners and curtsied. “Good morning Bessie,” Darcy said. “Good morning Mrs Reynolds,” he added when he saw the housekeeper.

Mrs Reynolds greeted Darcy with the familiarity and comfortability of a servant that had been in his employ for some years. 

“Miss Bennet,” Darcy said, acknowledging Elizabeth’s presence although it paled in comparison to his earlier greetings. Elizabeth, who had not prepared herself to meet him so soon, could only curtsy. He has not forgiven me then, Elizabeth reflected.

“Good morning Papa!” Rosie chirruped upon seeing her father. She once again rose from the table and ran excitedly towards Darcy whose hand extended stopping Rosie in her tracks.

“Rosie, what did I say about running in the house?” Darcy asked his daughter. Although not stern, his tone was not as warm as Elizabeth would have liked. 


Rosie’s face lost some of its cheer. “I am sorry, Papa,” she apologised and walked backwards rather comically to resume her seat. If it was not for fear of offending Darcy, Elizabeth would have laughed at the comedic nature of his daughter. However, she noted that Darcy’s lips turned up slightly. 

“Good morning Papa,” Archie said with not as much excitement as his sister. 

“Good morning to you both,” Darcy said, approaching the breakfast table. “I see you have met your governess.” 

Rosie nodded excitedly, her disappointment at her father’s correction seemingly forgotten. 

“She is very pretty! She also promised to be nice to us, so you don’t have to worry about anything Papa,” Rosie said. Elizabeth flushed and looked down. She did not want Mr Darcy to think she had been fishing for compliments or information from his children. Elizabeth believed he already found fault with her. 

What she missed was Darcy’s look of surprise at Rosie’s comments. He looked at Elizabeth for some moments and said abruptly as he made for the door, “Miss Bennet, come with me.”

Elizabeth looked up, confused and annoyed at Darcy’s commanding tone. She understood Darcy’s superiority as the Master but based on the few interactions she had witnessed with his children and employees, Elizabeth was the only one who seemed to be receiving the brunt of his coldness. Elizabeth knew that her behaviour the previous day had been abominable but she wondered if it warranted such incivility.  

“Sir, I was planning to show Miss Bennet around the nursery and relay some other details about the children’s care,” Mrs Reynolds tried to interject. Darcy paused in the doorway. Elizabeth waited with bated breath to see if there was a possibility of delaying an encounter alone with Darcy. Unfortunately her hope was short-lived.

“She will return to you. I thought it best to speak with her alone while the children finish their  breakfast,” Darcy said. He looked to Rosie and Archie, “I have some business to attend to, I shall see you after your supper,” he said. 

“See you Papa,” Rosie said smiling, while Archie only glanced at his father. Darcy seemed to want to say something to his son but thought better of it and exited the room. 

Remembering Darcy’s condescending remark about not wanting to repeat himself, Elizabeth was tempted to test his patience by disregarding his request for her to follow him. Mrs Reynolds, who was not privy to Elizabeth’s motive for not immediately bending to Darcy’s will, only made a shushing motion prompting Elizabeth to follow Darcy reluctantly. 

Darcy was already halfway down the hallway heading to another wing of the house separate from the nursery and Elizabeth’s room. His strides were longer than Elizabeth’s and to keep up Elizabeth had to jog slightly although she ensured she was always three steps behind him. This position and the silence between her and Darcy allowed Elizabeth some time to collect herself. 

Darcy’s tall, finely dressed frame moved through Pemberley with ease. Occasionally, the pair would meet a servant attending to one duty or another and Darcy would always greet each servant by name. In turn the servants did not seem anxious to meet the Master of the house. If only that was the case for me , Elizabeth thought. She hated that in both their interactions Darcy seemed to best her, at what exactly Elizabeth could not quite articulate, but she was certain that at present, with yesterday’s interaction included, she was a shadow of the impression she had made in her letter of application.

Darcy entered another room which by the looks of the furnishings and size, Elizabeth deduced was his office. Unlike other rooms that she had taken the time to observe, Elizabeth did not allow herself to indulge in the beauty of the room with its high bookshelves filled with numerous volumes that her reader’s heart would no doubt take pleasure in. Elizabeth was much too aware of herself and could not take a moment’s reprieve to relax. She feared that if she did so, Darcy would once again find something to find fault with. 

“Thorpe was supposed to join us but I have sent him ahead to meet my tenants before I join him,” Darcy said, sitting behind his desk opposite Elizabeth. Even in his guarded state, Elizabeth observed how he waited for her to be seated first before he settled in his chair. Such a contradiction, Elizabeth thought. 

“Miss Bennet, before we continue I need to first address the matter of what happened yesterday,” Darcy said, staring at Elizabeth emotionlessly. 

Elizabeth hoped her face did not reflect her apprehension. She was not certain if this meant her position was over before she had even started or if Darcy would have some choice words for her. The latter she would gladly receive. The former would be unwelcome.

“I will not have such behaviour exhibited in my house again,” Darcy stated. 

“I understand sir and I am-,” Elizabeth’s attempt to apologise was halted by Darcy’s raised hand. Elizabeth resolved not to speak again until asked to. 

“I also do not appreciate any promises being made to my children. They are your charges and your relationship should not be overly familiar,” Darcy continued, referencing his daughter’s comment that Elizabeth had promised to be nice. “I am entrusting you with my children and I expect you to mold them into respectable members of society. If I should be given another reason to worry, know that I will not heed any advice from Thorpe to keep you on. I will see to it personally that you are relieved of your duties,” Darcy said. If it was not for the harsh nature of his words, Elizabeth might have believed they were talking as fellow business people discussing the order of the day. Darcy did not raise his voice beyond a cool delivery void of emotion.

After a brief pause in which Elizabeth remained quiet, Darcy reached for three books on his desk. He slid the first towards Elizabeth. It was embossed in gold with the title Curriculum . “I expect you to follow the curriculum as it is set out in this book. An experienced school master curated it specifically for the children’s needs,” Darcy said. 

Elizabeth noted the emphasis Darcy placed on describing the school master as “experienced”. 

Darcy slid a second book across the table with the title Schedule. “Each day is to be followed according to this schedule unless something imminent arises. That includes meal times, lessons, rest and play time. Although I expect play time to not be a priority. I expect every item to be marked off at the end of the day and if it is not, I expect an explanation as to why that particular item was not attended to,” Darcy said. 

Elizabeth thought back to her wish for Darcy to be a mixture of the nonchalance of the Goulds and the strictness of the Turners. She was slowly realising Darcy would be the extreme of the Turners.

Darcy slid the final book to Elizabeth and opened it to show the blank pages. “This will serve as a report book which you will use to document the children’s progress including the deviations from the schedule, any interruptions and areas they need to improve,” Darcy said closing the book and piling it with the other books neatly. 

“We will be meeting weekly on Saturday afternoons for you to brief me. Ensure you are on time and are well prepared for these meetings. I do not tolerate tardiness. Any questions?” Darcy finished, sitting back in his chair. He stared at Elizabeth waiting for a response. 

Elizabeth only stared back at Darcy uncertain of what to say or do. A part of her wanted to laugh a deep belly laugh at what she believed to be a peculiar meeting. Although Elizabeth had not long interacted with Rosie and Archie, she knew enough about children to understand that Darcy’s plan was not conducive to their needs. She did not care whether an experienced school master had designed the curriculum but she cared about how the children would be taught. Rosie had already expressed an energetic nature showing how suitable lessons would have to balance giving Rosie the freedom to absorb all the knowledge she could without neglecting the fundamentals she needed. Archie on the other hand needed to be pushed far enough that he could express himself but not so far that it would force him to retreat further into his shell. Elizabeth had not yet looked at the curriculum but she was certain that it did not offer anything that would cater to these needs.

Another part of Elizabeth wanted to understand the root of Darcy's sternness and need for control. She could easily frame it as a by-product of his upbringing as a gentleman. Men of Darcy's calibre were raised to believe the world was theirs to do with as they pleased. However, Elizabeth strongly suspected that Darcy's actions were tied closely with the absence of Mrs Darcy. If his character had always been as she was witnessing Elizabeth suspected his wife's death had exacerbated that. Mrs Reynolds’ admission that Mrs Darcy had passed away seven years prior and the lack of mention of another woman in Darcy’s life indicated that Darcy had been solely responsible for the care of his children for a long time. That strangely made Elizabeth empathetic towards Darcy’s situation. The feeling was short lived however.

“Miss Bennet, I clearly remember stating that I do not like to repeat myself. Will this continue to be a problem?” Darcy asked frustratedly. 

Elizabeth narrowed her eyes. And to think I almost felt sorry for you, she thought bitterly. Elizabeth cleared her throat trying to rein in emotions that were threatening to spill over. Once again meeting Darcy was proving to be a trying experience. In a quiet voice that belied the temptation for her to respond in a manner that would be considered unlady-like and surely lead to her termination, Elizabeth could only say, “No Sir, I do not have any questions and no, it will not be a problem. May I return to Mrs Reynolds?”. Her smile was paper thin.

Darcy paused as if measuring the truth of her statement. He eventually nodded his assent for her to leave, seemingly wanting to also be free of Elizabeth as much as she wanted to be free of him.  

Elizabeth curtsied and made to leave but was called back by Darcy who pointed at the books on his desk which Elizabeth had forgotten. In collecting the small pile Elizabeth made a show of picking up the books, straightening them unnecessarily on his desk and tucking them into her elbow. She nearly gave in to the urge to slam Darcy’s office door as she proceeded back into the hallway, her initial anxiety about Darcy’s perception now long forgotten.

...

Left alone, Darcy rubbed a frustrated hand over his face. The sun was barely at its peak but it already felt like it was a long day. His lack of sleep did not help matters. As always the nightmares of Anne played out as a variation of the tragic night seven years ago and as always he hated himself more for having inflicted that pain on her. Contrary to his sister and Grandmother’s assertions that he was not at fault for Anne’s death, as Anne had always been sickly, Darcy held on to the belief that if he had not done his duty as his Aunt de Bough had insisted upon, Anne would still be alive. 

At the first signs of light Darcy had decided to walk the grounds. The walk had helped Darcy calm his mind and shift it from the self-loathing he felt at thoughts of his deceased wife. 

What the walk had failed to do was prepare him for his meeting with Elizabeth, as judging by the way Elizabeth had exited his office Darcy could safely say the meeting had not gone well.

Darcy had thought rushing through the meeting would be best to avoid the unease he felt around Elizabeth. Since he first beheld her sitting on the piano bench she had proved to be an anomaly. Equal parts intriguing and frustrating. He recognised that she was a beautiful woman and there was nothing he could do to change that. Even his footmen had expressed similar sentiments last night when they thought he was out of earshot. However, he would not analyse that observation further. So great though the temptation to be rid of Elizabeth was, he would not terminate her employment on the basis of his apparent attraction. Unless, Darcy secretly hoped, she gave him reason to. 

For the duration of the day Elizabeth was not far from Darcy’s mind. Most especially was the look Elizabeth had given him before he had asked her, rather rudely he knew, whether her propensity to make him repeat himself would be a regular occurrence. There had been pity, which Darcy knew all too well was a result of his status as a widower, after seven years he was accustomed to it. However, laced with that was something that confused Darcy. He wondered what in his actions had warranted Elizabeth’s understanding and why that recognition had vexed him to the point of once again losing control.

Chapter Text

Life at Pemberley continued in the way Darcy had decreed. Elizabeth taught the children according to the curriculum and schedule set by Darcy and Darcy continued to be a thorn in Elizabeth’s side. Perhaps naively, Elizabeth had expected a more collaborative relationship with Darcy but as the weeks progressed this proved to be impossible. Merely suggesting a modification to the curriculum, particularly to cater to the differences in Archie and Rosie’s style of learning, had not been well received. Elizabeth was always reminded that someone more experienced had seen to the design of the curriculum.

However, where she was making little progress with Darcy, her lessons with the children, although not with their own challenges, had progressed much better. Elizabeth had quickly recognised that Mr Thorpe’s assertion during their introductory meeting that Archie did not express as much interest in learning as Rosie was not out of a lack of intelligence on Archie’s part. Both children were extremely intelligent which had gone a long way to make her lesson preparation more interesting even with the limited amount of knowledge she could impart.

What Mr Thorpe had described as a tendency to be distracted was simply Archie’s way of expressing his boredom. Within the first week, Elizabeth realised how Archie was not as patient with the lessons as Rosie. Where Rosie was a ball of energy in all other aspects of her life, when it came to learning her focus was razor sharp and she liked to absorb her knowledge in a methodical manner.

Archie on the other hand seemed to prefer a tactile approach that did not conform to the rigid structure of the curriculum set by Darcy. He certainly did not have the patience to sit for extended periods of time concentrating on one task. He would always move around the nursery, seemingly searching for some stimulation that was not provided in the tasks at hand. This had surprised Elizabeth as she had expected the quiet and reserved demeanour he had exhibited during their first meeting to be his constant state.

Elizabeth had initially tried to be the traditional disciplinarian, discouraging Archie from exhibiting such behaviour and also fearing how it would reflect unfavourably on her ability as a teacher. The result of this was a lot of “please take your seat Archie” and “may you please pay attention Archie”. So during the second week Elizabeth had simply let Archie be and that proved to do the trick. The key was allowing Archie to be in control of the situation, dictating the terms of their relationship and when he was satisfied that Elizabeth had his best interests at heart, he let his guard down.

A favourite activity of Archie’s since he realised how Elizabeth was unlike their previous governess and nurses, was asking Elizabeth all manner of questions especially when Elizabeth was more than willing to respond to his often odd line of questioning.

“Why do we pray to God?” he had once asked during arithmetic.

“We pray to God because he is our Father and our Creator,” Elizabeth answered without missing a beat.

“So who is God’s father?” Archie asked, not satisfied with what Elizabeth had hoped had been an apt response.

“Archie, I do not believe this is related to our current lesson,” Elizabeth said with a knowing smile. Archie had simply nodded but that had not been the end of the discussion.

In a letter to Jane, Elizabeth had explained her fear that she may be over-indulging Archie.

“...It seems the previous governess was not very tolerant of Archie and his curiosity. So it’s a wonder that my attempt to be friendly with the children has resulted in Archie considering me something of a sounding board for his questions and ideas (of which there are plenty). And while under a different employer I might not be concerned by this, Mr Darcy is very unpredictable and I know he would not be happy with me letting Archie’s mind run wild.”

Although Jane’s response had been sympathetic to Elizabeth’s dilemma, Elizabeth knew sympathy would not help her if Darcy caught wind of how Elizabeth was prone to indulging Archie’s curiosity. Every time she answered Archie, Elizabeth reasoned that it was a way to draw Archie’s attention back to the lesson, which he would do once his question was answered satisfactorily. But often his questions prompted more questions that would distract Elizabeth to the point of losing track of her initial attempts to help Archie focus on the lesson.

When Elizabeth had highlighted her observations to Darcy, arguing how Archie might benefit from a less rigid curriculum Darcy had simply dismissed her by once again saying: “A tutor will take over Archie’s studies next year, you only need to build his foundational knowledge.”

Elizabeth interpreted this as Darcy saying: “Archie is a gentleman’s son, who needs to learn gentlemanly things that only gentlemen can understand.”

Elizabeth knew a tutor would only serve to stifle Archie, not to nurture him.

Patient though she might be regarding most matters, Darcy’s resistance was frustrating Elizabeth considering her suggestions were for the betterment of his children. She had even tried to appeal to Darcy through his trusted steward, going as far as to ask if there was a way to convince Darcy to allow her to do things a little differently.

“I can’t speak for Mr Darcy, Miss Bennet however, I can assure you that Mr Darcy regards his children’s education to be of paramount importance, especially Master Archie’s. With him being the heir there are certain sacrifices that must be made,” Mr Thorpe had said.

“Do these sacrifices include sacrificing his own children’s happiness?” Elizabeth had challenged. Mr Thorpe had not taken that lightly.

“Tread carefully Miss Bennet. Like I said, his children come first. Make no mistake about that!” Mr Thorpe said, ending the discussion.

Sometimes the feelings of frustration were followed by a desire to quit and return home to Longbourn but Elizabeth always allowed rationality to prevail by reminding herself of why she had sought employment in the first place and also the considerable salary which many governesses would only dream of earning. The latter thought was also met by a feeling of shame as Elizabeth knew that caring for Rosie and Archie went beyond the money she was receiving. She recognised how she had a role to play in helping the children find the recognition and approval they yearned to receive from their father.

Having a father like Mr Bennet, Elizabeth was wont to forget that not all parents were attentive to the needs of their children. Even when her father did not pay all his daughters the same attention and regard, for he particularly favoured his two eldest, Elizabeth knew that her father at least tried in his own way. Their aging piano, acquired cheaply from the auction of a deceased Earl’s estate, was a testament to his attempts to please his daughters, or at least Mary who had begged her father to learn to play.

So while Darcy did not induce fear in his children, for he was always gentle even in his rebukes, his rather distant approach to parenting did not make it easy for his children. Elizabeth could see that for Archie, this distance was difficult to bridge unlike with Rosie whose effervescence could charm even the coldest of fathers. Archie had not yet mastered the confidence to showcase his talents without needing encouragement and this often manifested in the quiet demeanour he exhibited around Darcy. He was sensitive to how people reacted to him. If Elizabeth had not exhibited the warm and open approach she had to teaching during the first week, then Archie might still be as reserved as he was around his father. Darcy also did not help matters with his rigid routine that relegated interactions with his children to a minimum and left Elizabeth to be mostly responsible for the children.

Having this insight meant Elizabeth was in a constant state of annoyance, vacillating between frustration at Darcy’s stubbornness regarding making adjustments to her teaching methods and dread at facing him in the mornings and evenings when he would come to the nursery to greet the children and bid them goodnight before they retreated to bed. She could always feel the joy she possessed while teaching evaporate when Darcy visited.

These encounters could not compare to Elizabeth’s dread at the weekly meetings Darcy had insisted upon in which she reported the children’s progress. It was not the task of reporting that vexed her, after all Darcy was entitled to know how his children were faring. What she despised was the resistance on Darcy’s part for Elizabeth to comment on substantial areas of improvement that would enhance the children’s learning experience. She was always tempted to ask him why he required the report if it would not serve the children’s best interests.

So as her first month at Pemberley rolled into her second, Elizabeth’s state of mind continued to cycle between trepidation at the prospect of her interactions with Darcy and relief after any encounters she had with him were over. That was until Darcy announced during their weekly meeting that he was departing for London for the Season.

“When are you leaving?” Elizabeth asked. Darcy’s raised brow was evidence that the question had been delivered rather eagerly.

“I leave in a week’s time. Mr Thorpe will be in charge during my absence so any questions you have direct them to him. I trust all should run smoothly,” Darcy said. The stare directed towards her spoke volumes about his expectations for Elizabeth to tow the line.

Elizabeth did not focus on the underlying threat behind Darcy’s words but chose instead to revel in the prospect of being free from Darcy’s control. Short lived as that freedom might be.

“Will you be gone long?” Elizabeth asked, hoping her tone this time veiled the excitement bubbling beneath the surface.

“I should return just after the Season ends,” Darcy said. His annoyance showed through the clipped manner he responded.

Elizabeth had wanted him to disclose a date of return but an estimate would suffice. The Season usually concluded around the end of June, so if anything Elizabeth knew not to expect Darcy for at least two months from his departure. Elizabeth looked down and feigned a cough in an attempt to keep herself from smiling. Perhaps her prayers were finally being heard.

"Do you have any more questions Miss Bennet?” Darcy asked, his question far from inviting.

I have only asked two questions! Elizabeth thought, fighting the urge to roll her eyes. To Darcy she replied: “No sir”. Even if she had questions she was not stupid enough to provoke him by actually asking them.

Darcy looked sceptically at her and seemed to be on the verge of saying something. He shook his head slightly and by way of dismissal said, “That is all. I will come and see the children at night.”

As she left his office, Elizabeth felt like skipping back to the nursery with joy.

...

The day before Darcy’s departure was a Sunday which saw Elizabeth accompany Darcy and the children, along with most of the servants to the local church, St John’s Parish for which Darcy was patron. Elizabeth sat with the servants at the back while Darcy and the children, who often dozed off halfway through the sermon, sat in the Darcy family’s box pews at the front of the church.

The services had become one of the few bright spots in Elizabeth’s week outside of teaching the children and Elizabeth had taken to the residents of Lambton who had plenty to offer in terms of society. Among them was the daughter of the Bennets’ family friends and neighbours, the Lucases.

Charlotte Lucas, who was now known by her married name of Mrs Milford, had been close friends with Jane and Elizabeth before Elizabeth had departed for her first posting as a governess. Although slightly older than the sisters, Charlotte had bonded with them and had often served as a foil for Elizabeth’s more extreme views on marriage and love. Not long after Elizabeth had departed for her first posting as a governess, Charlotte had also made her way to India to be a missionary citing among her reasons, her age and the lack of any suitors. In a letter to Elizabeth, Charlotte had once said:

“…You served as an inspiration for me to take this leap and come to India, Lizzie. I could not just sit still and waste away hoping that a day will come when I will be married. My parents never revealed their true feelings on the matter but I know I was becoming a burden. At least as a missionary I can alleviate some of their anxieties and I have the added bonus of having the liberty to roam this earth without the restrictions society places on us as women, especially when one is so unlucky as myself to reach the age of 25 and still be unmarried.”

The last that Elizabeth had heard from Charlotte was when Charlotte wrote telling her that she had accepted a marriage proposal from a priest, James Milford, who she had met in India. Elizabeth’s move to France had resulted in an unfortunate case of lost letters and redirections to the incorrect address that the two had lost touch. The couple had returned to England during Elizabeth’s time on the continent and Mr Milford had been fortunate to secure a position as the parish priest of St John’s Parish.

So upon discovering that their patron’s new governess was Elizabeth, Charlotte had sought her out, visiting her at Pemberley. Introductions to Charlotte’s husband had followed and husband and wife had become a welcome addition to Elizabeth’s currently non-existent circle. Despite the limited encounters that Charlotte and Elizabeth had so far been able to have due to the demands of Elizabeth’s duties and Charlotte’s own as a parson’s wife, the two had swiftly resumed their friendship.

"Pleasant sermon was it not?" Charlotte said coming to walk in step with Elizabeth as they were exiting the church.

"If I say no will you take offence that I have slighted your husband, Mrs Milford," Elizabeth said.

"As I keep insisting Lizzie, call me Charlotte. And no, I would not be offended for my husband. However, I might be offended on my behalf for I was subjected to hours of being a practise audience for him. If his sermon was not well received then surely I should be compensated for tolerating it," Charlotte said. The two women laughed.

“Then I say it was one of his best yet,” Elizabeth added in between giggles. Elizabeth was not exaggerating. She had so far found the few sermons she had had the privilege to listen to from Mr Milford to be enjoyable.

Charlotte’s companionship had vastly improved Elizabeth’s spirits and renewed her initial hope that Pemberley had more to offer beyond her master’s surliness. Although Charlotte could not offer much information about Darcy, having her as a confidante was a balm for the loneliness she felt without her family and in particular, Jane or her father.

“Will you be joining us for tea after Sunday School?” Charlotte asked as they passed her husband shaking his hand in quick greetings.

Elizabeth found it strange that Charlotte had to abide by the custom even when the priest was her husband. “It was strange at first but I grew accustomed to it,” Charlotte had remarked when Elizabeth had vocalised her observation. Elizabeth noticed that Charlotte had grown accustomed to a lot of things that were expected of her as a prominent member of Lambton’s society, including daily visits to parishioners, hosting fundraisers and teaching Sunday School. Charlotte took it all in stride and Elizabeth sometimes envied the quiet confidence and sense of contentment Charlotte had found in her role as Mrs Milford.

“Certainly, and I believe I will be able to join you well into supper from next Sunday,” Elizabeth said with a conspiratorial smile, casting a glance towards Darcy who was conversing with elderly parishioners.

“The season has started,” Charlotte said, smiling knowingly as she also observed Darcy. Being familiar with Elizabeth’s contentious relationship with Darcy, Charlotte recognised the significance of Darcy being away for a period of time.

“If only it lasted all year,” Elizabeth sighed exaggeratedly.

Charlotte laughed and playfully swatted at Elizabeth’s arm. “Time Elizabeth is what you need. Time to know him and understand him. I have a feeling you both have simply misunderstood each other. The few close encounters I have had with him have been quite pleasant.”

“Exactly Charlotte!” Elizabeth said, passion overtaking her. She momentarily drew the attention of some of the people standing close to the pair. Charlotte moved Elizabeth along so that their conversation could not be overhead. Elizabeth continued unfazed, “If you are subjected to him once or twice I see no reason to view him any differently. That however, has not been my good fortune. I do not expect to be his equal but some respect would be appreciated!” Elizabeth finished in a harsh whisper.

“Lizzie,” Charlotte said, trying to calm her friend. The risk of Darcy overhearing their conversation was too great if Elizabeth continued in such an impassioned manner. “With time, you are sure to feel less and less like enemies. Besides, this is all for the betterment of his children. You can not let emotion get in the way of that."

Elizabeth could only roll her eyes at her friend’s rationalisation. “I see whose side you are on Mrs Milford,” Elizabeth said sarcastically.

“He is my husband’s employer after all so I must remember which side my bread is buttered,” Charlotte said, unable to contain her laughter. Elizabeth joined in forgetting her frustrations for just a moment.

...

Witnessing the scene was Darcy who had lost track of whatever one of the elderly parishioners was saying. He had been trying and failing to not observe Elizabeth and unlike the critical eye he always used when it came to her, this time he quieted his mind so that his eyes could appreciate what they saw. Looking at her from across the church yard, Darcy was drawn by how the smile that graced her lips seemed to emanate from somewhere deep within her, unrestrained by the shackles of life. It was not the polite smile he displayed towards strangers and sometimes friends in an attempt to be civil.

A moment after this, when the two ladies were joined by his coachman, Trent, Darcy wished he had paid attention to the parishioner instead. The swift wave of irritation surprised him and he knew it was unwarranted for he had no reason to suspect Elizabeth was doing anything untoward with his coachman. But he could not help the annoyance he felt when Elizabeth directed that very same smile he had been admiring towards Trent. The familiarity with which the two conversed made Darcy want to yell across the yard for Trent to ready the carriage even though Darcy was not due to leave for another half hour. To make matters worse, Trent proceeded to offer Elizabeth his arm and the pair, accompanied by Mrs Milford, walked on towards the back of the church where Sunday School classes were held.

To those around him, Darcy showed nothing but a calm air but if one were to look closer then his clenched jaw was the only sign that something was amiss. Darcy did not want to put a name to what he was feeling but he knew it was jealousy. Why he should be jealous of his coachman receiving attention from his governess Darcy did not quite understand? Or perhaps he understood perfectly because even with all these rationalisations, Darcy knew it was because he wanted to be on the receiving end of those smiles. Inappropriate as his desire might be Darcy’s attraction to Elizabeth had grown over the few weeks she had been under his employ. During their meetings he would often catch himself admiring her, wondering how to bridge the gap created when they first met. He didn’t seem to know how to balance the feelings elicited in her presence and the annoyance at allowing himself to dwell on those feelings when nothing could come of it. Their meeting the previous day was a testament to how she could vex and intrigue him at the same time.

Get a grip Darcy, he thought. As he observed Elizabeth with her companions he reasoned that the upcoming trip to London, and the length of time he would be staying there might do him good to clear his mind of thoughts of his children’s governess. In truth he never left for London so early, he often left within a month of the season concluding as he did not care much for some of the activities most of society considered necessary to partake in for the sake of keeping up appearances. It had even taken some years after the birth of his children to be seen regularly in society again. However, for the first time since his days as a bachelor, Darcy looked forward to the distractions London offered.

Chapter Text

Before departing for London, Darcy visited the children’s nursery for a goodbye. Difficult as he sometimes found it to engage with his children, he felt it necessary to see them before he left on a journey regardless of the hour. This was a habit his mother had developed, encouraging Darcy’s father to also do the same even though his father was far from the sentimental type and always displayed how unnecessary he found the task by standing off to the side while his mother lavished him with goodbye kisses on his face. Few would ever understand how much he missed his mother. She had made life just that little bit brighter and easier.

However, thoughts of his mother were not enough to distract him in his current state. Darcy was not in a particularly good mood as he had awoken from a dream where his subconscious had managed to conjure up Elizabeth and to make matters worse, his coachman, Trent.

In the dream he had been sitting in the drawing room, ironically the same one in which he had first met Elizabeth, merely watching a woman play the piano. At first he thought it was Anne as she was frequently the subject of his dreams or nightmares in some variation but the woman on the bench had darker brown hair. Curious, his dream self had walked over to the bench, drawn by the mystery woman though he instinctively knew who it was before the reveal. Before he had touched her the mystery woman had turned revealing the face of Elizabeth. Upon seeing him Elizabeth had smiled a brilliant smile showing the joy she felt in that moment. His dream version had felt a sense of satisfaction at seeing her reaction to him but as if his own subconscious enjoyed mocking him, this smile turned out to not be directed at him. Instead, a man, who turned out to be Trent, emerged from somewhere behind Darcy and moved forward to take Elizabeth’s hand. The two had then proceeded to dance a reel around the room as if Darcy was merely a ghost.

When he was conscious and had rationalised that his dream was merely a dream, Darcy felt a strange satisfaction knowing that Trent would be accompanying him to London along with the few other servants that accompanied Darcy when he lodged at the London house. Unfounded as his jealousy might be, he felt better knowing that if there was a possibility of anything ever developing between Elizabeth and Trent, the distance would surely quell any interest the two might have in each other. Trent would surely be distracted by the other lady servants or at least Darcy hoped he would be and if it ever came to it Darcy would have the authority to dismiss the man without the need to provide a reason, cruel as such an act may be.

Such thoughts though added to Darcy’s mounting irritation. Never in all the time that he had reviewed the letters of application received from those who responded to the advertisement in the paper had he imagined himself one day dreaming about his governess or finding the attention she received from other men to be of interest to him. It annoyed him that he was wasting precious time dwelling on such trivialities as separating her from his coachman no less. And he refused to place much significance on the fact that it was the first time he had dreamed about something or someone other than Anne.

So as he visited his children in their night nursery, starting with Rosie, his only hope was that upon his return Elizabeth would only occupy his thoughts to the extent that she was an employee. However, when he found Elizabeth assisting Bessie to prepare Rosie for the morning, he almost laughed at what he believed to be God’s way of mocking him. For how long must I endure this torture?, he wondered. Considering the progression of his thoughts, he was grateful for the reprieve that would hopefully be offered by his trip to London.

The situation was made worse when Bessie left the room noting that she would start preparing Archie for the morning and thus leaving him alone with his daughter and Elizabeth. Darcy avoided Elizabeth’s eyes the entire time he spoke to Rosie asking her what to bring back from London, but this proved futile when Rosie excitedly asked: “And what will you bring for Miss Bennet, Papa?”

Darcy heard Elizabeth’s gasp and could imagine the surprise on her face matched his own. Elizabeth was quicker to respond and irritation aside, he was grateful that she saved him from having to respond to a question he would not know how to respond.

“It is kind of you Rosie to be considerate of me but it is not necessary for your father to bring back anything for me or Bessie” said Elizabeth. He noted how she included Bessie to deflect the attention from herself.

“But you have been so nice to us Miss Bennet. I think you deserve a gift. I remember you mentioned that you will need to go into Lambton to find material for a dress. Surely Papa can gift you that,” said Rosie, unable to understand the inappropriateness of such a request.

“The joy I feel from teaching you and your brother is the only reward I need Rosie,” said Elizabeth nervously. Irritated as he might be, Darcy could still appreciate Elizabeth’s sharpness. He truthfully did not know how to address Rosie’s question.

“I will see you soon,” said Darcy to Rosie, cutting off any further discussion on the matter. His daughter looked confused and a little upset at her request not being granted but Darcy would not indulge her and add to the awkwardness she had subjected him to. He gave Rosie one final brief hug before visiting Archie’s room.

His exchange of goodbyes with his son was brief and as always Darcy was left wishing he would do better than his own father used to do and also that he would find some point of commonality that he could engage with so that he would not feel so useless when it came to his son. He felt this acutely when the two exited Archie’s room to meet Elizabeth and Rosie in the entrance room. Archie all but ran towards Elizabeth, who reached out her free hand to welcome Archie’s. Darcy noted how Archie seemed to relax and how his movement towards Elizabeth was as if he was tethered to her and the separation had been unbearable. Elizabeth smiled at Archie encouragingly and briefly let go of his hand to straighten his jacket rubbing away at some flint before resuming her hold.

A strong yearning overcame him in the moment as he both wanted to grab his children and hug them out of fear of losing them to his governess but at the same time wanted to be granted access to this exclusive circle his children and Elizabeth seemed to have created that made him feel like the outsider and intruder. He realised he must have been staring and consumed in his thoughts when Elizabeth asked: “Will there be anything you require me to do with the children while you are gone Sir?”.

Darcy cleared his throat and shook his head saying, “No, there is nothing else”. Had his mind been less clouded with thoughts about Elizabeth, he would most likely have reminded her to ensure the children were not distracted from their studies, unnecessary as the reminder might be. His distracted state resulted in a few more moments of silence where Darcy stared at Elizabeth while he fidgeted with his gloves, while Elizabeth only looked at him quizzically, until Rosie asked: “Papa?”

Once again Darcy cleared his throat. He hated the habit but it seemed like the only way to control his frayed nerves. Darcy only smiled slightly at his daughter to reassure her. He knew he should just leave. After all his plan had been to see the children and leave immediately. So why was he still here? This is ridiculous, Darcy thought. Determinedly, he straightened his coat to gain a modicum of control, said final goodbyes to his children and made for the door without addressing Elizabeth. The only hindrance to his mad dash for the door was Rosie, who ran to him for another hug and said “I love you, Papa” which he responded to with a quiet “I love you Rosie, Archie”. He looked to his son who stayed rooted by Elizabeth’s side. After Rosie had extricated herself, Darcy finally made it out into the hallway. Tempted as he was to look back, he walked on. He was afraid looking back would reveal too much.

....

To say that the days following Darcy’s departure were full of merriment would be an understatement. Elizabeth engaged the children in various activities that under Darcy’s presence would be regarded as “unnecessary” as Darcy had once described Elizabeth’s request to vary lessons by conducting some of them outside to enhance the children’s experience learning about plants and animals. However, with Darcy now gone, one of the first things Elizabeth did was do exactly what he had frowned up. All within reason of course, for she could not disregard the consequences, including a potential loss of her position. But as she witnessed how the children’s spirits lifted significantly, especially in Archie’s case, Elizabeth knew that the consequences would be worth the joy the children derived from her minor rebellion.

One activity the children took to was the walks the trio went on every other day around Pemberley’s grounds. Elizabeth had found a way to make them both leisurely and educational. While Darcy had never outrightly prevented her from doing as such, his insistence on her following the set schedule and curriculum had been a roundabout way of ensuring Elizabeth never varied the lesson plan to include more tactile activities. To balance Darcy’s requirements with the children’s, the walks involved closer study of the flowers and animals they read about. Elizabeth’s justification was that by witnessing these ordinary features of life in person their engagement during lessons would be improved.

“Can we do this everyday Miss Bennet?” asked Archie enthusiastically, as he ran ahead of her and Rosie on one such day chasing after a bird he had taken a liking to and which in turn had flown away leaving him to chase after the wind.

“Yes please, Miss Bennet,” Rosie chimed in. “I for one have certainly found the walks refreshing. And not to mention all these flowers I can bring for Mrs Reynolds and Bessie and Mason and you of course!” She said all this while plucking away at more flowers in the south garden which featured an array of daisies, chrysanthemums and lilies among others.

Elizabeth had sought permission for Rosie to do as she wished with the garden from the head groundskeeper, Mr Reeves who oversaw the numerous gardeners that maintained Pemberley’s gardens and the woods at large.

“Unfortunately, if all we do is walk then we will not be able to learn anything else,” said Elizabeth, smiling at her charges who seemed to have found a new lease on life, especially Archie. Her theory that he required a non-conventional style of teaching was proven true each day that Darcy was away and she was able to exercise more freedom with what she taught. His new found love for drawing the many creatures and plants they saw during their walks was a testament to this.

For Rosie the enjoyment she derived in running or skipping around without being monitored or instructed to do otherwise could not quite distract her from how much she missed her father and was wont to express her sentiments. Archie though did not seem to agree whenever it was expressed. Elizabeth knew this was not because Archie did not miss his father. She saw the way his face would fall slightly and how his brow furrowed whenever Rosie mentioned Darcy.

It was a conflict that Elizabeth was familiar with. In all her journeys and time away from home she reasoned she had worn a similar expression a few times. It was a conflict induced by the fact that on the one hand she always found enjoyment in satisfying her curiosities whenever she took a posting as a governess but on the other hand, the sometimes overwhelming longing for home and her family made the whole thing unbearable as her euphoria would often be cut short by an encounter with an object or interaction that reminded her of home.

Similarly Archie’s conflict would be centered on his tenuous relationship with Darcy. Elizabeth reasoned that he most definitely missed his father but that he also recognised that the absence of his father allowed for more enjoyment in his day which most likely led to him wishing his father was present to witness or facilitate such enjoyment.

Elizabeth had also had to reason with Mr Thorpe, as Darcy’s stand in, to allow for what Elizabeth described as a slight change to Darcy’s plan. Remembering her past unsuccessful attempt to win him over, Elizabeth’s approach with Mr Thorpe now involved a lot less of the self righteous attitude she had exhibited.

It was also fortunate that Mr Thorpe’s own tasks occupied enough of his time to ensure he was not always around Pemberley or that if he was, the children’s nursery was located far enough away that he could not monitor them directly. This did not mean that Mr Thorpe did not have informants. Whether by his own design or by Darcy’s, the latter of which Elizabeth reasoned was more likely, the butler, Mr Mason and a couple of the footmen seemed to always be hovering around when Elizabeth was conducting lessons.

However, loyal to Mr Darcy as he might be, Mr Thorpe was certainly not as harsh as his master and could recognise the improvement in the children, especially when it came to Archie who he had always been concerned for. The most he had said was by way of a subtle warning for Elizabeth to not stray too far out of line.

“Miss Bennet, I hope you know what you are doing,” he said one afternoon, coming up to the bench Elizabeth occupied. She was observing the children count the fish in the pond as part of an exercise for their arithmetic. “While I see that the children are indeed still learning, I caution against being too liberal with your changes to what Mr Darcy outlined. His word is law.”

Elizabeth sighed, annoyed at having a tranquil moment disturbed. She had initially liked Mr Thorpe, not that she disliked him now but, as was appropriate, his loyalties to Darcy prevented her from feeling comfortable in his presence. She did not take her eyes off the children and said, “I do not wish to undermine anyone’s authority Mr Thorpe. However, I recall you telling me that Mr Darcy’s utmost concern is his children and I have their best interests at heart. Their results have been excellent of late, I am sure you have noticed.”

“Of course,” said Mr Thorpe, unable to argue the point. He knew Darcy would not be happy to see his plans so greatly altered but he also reasoned that once Darcy saw the children’s own happiness, he might come to see the benefits of what Miss Bennet was doing.

....

A letter arrived from London about a month into Darcy’s departure, announcing that Darcy’s younger sister, Georgiana and their aunt, Lady Sybil Strafford would be returning earlier than him.

Lady Sybil, Elizabeth had come to learn was the youngest of the late Mr Darcy’s siblings. She had been married to the 5th Earl of Strafford who had passed away early in their marriage leaving her to care for their only son. Now that her son, as the new Earl of Strafford, was of age and had control of the estate, Lady Sybil as she liked to be called had taken to travelling around the world, going as far as the West Indies and India. Currently, she was acting as a companion and chaperone to Georgiana. The pair had been in London after Georgiana’s stay at Lady Sybil’s home in Somerset earlier in the year.

True to Mrs Reynolds’s word, when Lady Sybil and Georgiana arrived the latter had to rest for a day and much as her niece and nephew wanted to see their aunt and great aunt, they had to wait patiently until Georgiana had recovered from the strain of the journey.

When Georgiana and Lady Sybil finally visited the children the greeting could only be described as loving. The hugs and kisses passed around were enough to make Elizabeth smile with the joy that not all members of the Darcy family were as restrained as Darcy, although she noted Georgiana was still more reserved than her aunt especially when she noticed Elizabeth observing them.

Elizabeth could not help her observations as aunt and niece were both beautiful true to the portraits and family paintings Eliazabeth had observed them in around Pemberley. Georgiana had clearly taken her colouring from Lady Sybil who had the same golden blonde hair but where Georgiana’s was styled simply into a bun with a few long ringlets framing her round face, Lady Sybil’s featured a braided bun and tighter curls topped with a gold hair comb.

After a few moments of exchanges of greetings and gifts, some of which were sent ahead by Darcy, Lady Sybil’s eyes finally landed on Elizabeth who stood a few feet away so as to not intrude on the family moment. Elizabeth was lost in her admiration of the two ladies’ interactions with the children that she almost missed when Lady Sybil finally addressed her.

“I knew it,” said Lady Sybil. She had a smooth voice that commanded attention without any particular direction from the speaker. “Your brother was attempting to fool us with his nonchalant description,” said Lady Sybil, directing the comment at Georgiana while approaching a bemused Elizabeth.

What Elizabeth was unaware of was that upon their meeting with Darcy when he arrived in London, Lady Sybil and Georgiana had enquired about the new governess. Their curiosity derived from their love for Archie and Rosie and their worry that the new governess might exhibit the former governess’ cruel behaviour.

Darcy’s reaction had made Lady Sybil curious as he had quickly dismissed their concern and enquiries by saying, “There is nothing to worry about in that regard I assure you. If anything I fear she may influence them a great deal to their own detriment.”

Lady Sybil had probed further, curious as to what exactly made the new governess so influential. “You will see for yourself when you return to Pemberley,” said Darcy cryptically.

Lady Sybil laughed. “She must be exceptional to have any influence over my great niece and nephew. Lord knows they are not easily fooled.”

“You have not met Miss Bennet,” said Darcy sardonically. “She is wilful and always wants to challenge authority. She seems to find fault with everything I decree even though I am the father of the very children she teaches! I daresay her beauty might be her only redeeming quality,” Darcy scoffed.

“She is a beauty?” asked Lady Sybil.

Darcy seemed to realise what he had said and colour creeped in from under his neck tie. Darcy rose from his seat and headed for the tea table where he pretended to be absorbed in refilling his teacup. The silence behind him told him his aunt was expecting a response. Darcy cleared his throat and without turning around said, “Well, objectively speaking some might consider her to be tolerable like any country girl.” As he walked back to his seat he continued, “I attribute some of her less refined qualities to her youth, for she is considerably young. It only leaves you to wonder why some young man has not asked for her hand.” He resumed his seat and then braved a look at his aunt who only raised one brow, smiled and moved to another topic of conversation.

Lady Sybil had recognised that there was more to the new governess than Darcy was letting on. Certainly his admission of Elizabeth being beautiful was an indicator. The governess’ youth was not an issue if she was competent, for if she was incompetent Darcy would not have kept her on for this long, even going to the extent of leaving his children in her care.

As she now observed Elizabeth in person, Lady Sybil reconciled that the hesitation Darcy had in describing Elizabeth and his attempt to redact his statement on her beauty by describing her as tolerable, was possibly due to the compromising position it placed him in as her employer. He could not have described her as anything less than beautiful, as Lady Sybil saw that Elizabeth certainly was beautiful even for a country girl but going so far as to highlight that physical characteristic went against Darcy’s principled manner.

Unlike other masters who took advantage of their female servants, Darcy always maintained a respectable relationship with his servants and never crossed the line that others dared to. As such even if Darcy recognised Elizabeth’s beauty, which he had admitted to, had he been more in control of his emotions in the moment he would never have admitted it as a matter of principle. She knew she was being hasty in presuming Darcy might regard his governess as more than just a servant but as she admired the natural beauty Elizabeth exuded, Lady Sybil’s mind could not help wondering just how much Darcy was affected.

To Elizabeth she continued, “You are quite the beauty. Certainly all the young men should be clamouring at your father’s door for your hand.”

Elizabeth’s brow knitted in confusion uncertain as to how to respond to the statement and only managed a nervous chuckle.

“I think Miss Bennet is very beautiful Aunt Sybil,” said Rosie, overhearing her great aunt.

“And your opinion far outweighs any other Rosalind,” said Lady Sybil. Rosie smiled with satisfaction while Archie rolled his eyes exaggeratedly which also derived a small giggle from Georgiana.

Lady Sybil came closer to Elizabeth, her scrutiny making Elizabeth uncomfortable. She extended her hand for Elizabeth to shake and said “I am Lady Strafford but you can call me Lady Sybil. This is my niece, Darcy’s younger sister, Georgiana,” she said, indicating towards Georgiana. Georgiana looked at Elizabeth shyly, offering a small smile.

“It is nice to meet you Miss Bennet,” said Georgiana, also extending her hand. Her voice was so soft and she spoke in a low tone that Elizabeth had to slightly lean in to hear her clearly.

“Likewise, Miss Darcy,” said Elizabeth, feeling more at ease with Georgiana than Lady Sybil.

“Please call me Georgiana,” said Georgiana, her cheeks colouring.

Elizabeth smiled and nodded her consent, “As you wish.” Despite her youth, as she was similar in age to Lydia and Kitty, Georgiana reminded Elizabeth of Jane with her sweet and quiet nature. Georgiana certainly would not make fast friends with either Lydia or Kitty considering their insatiable desire to be the centre of attention.

“I trust you both travelled well?” asked Elizabeth. She tried to smile confidently but Lady Sybil’s gaze and knowing smile discomforted her. What does she know? Elizabeth wondered.

“The journey was as smooth as it can be for such a distance,” said Lady Sybil, moving to the work table where the children’s lesson books were currently opened. She observed one closely, fingers skimming over the children’s writing. “Of course my dear niece always requires a day or so’s rest after the journey. It can take its toll,” Lady Sybil smiled towards Georgiana whose attention had returned to the children.

“How are you finding Pemberley, Miss Bennet?” asked Lady Sybil, now moving around the room. Elizabeth had hung some of the children’s drawings on the wall and Lady Sybil observed them as if they were the works of England’s most famous artists.

“It is a beautiful estate,” said Elizabeth, hesitating to elaborate lest she sound too enthused. Pemberley was the most beautiful home she had ever seen and the park offered so much but considering Lady Sybil grew up at Pemberley, Elizabeth reasoned she most likely did not need to be told about its beauty. She was more comfortable speaking about the children though, “Teaching the children is wonderful. They are very intelligent and lovely to teach. They always engage very well with lessons.”

“Of course,” said Lady Sybil smiling at Archie and Rosie who were now picking up the gift wrappings. Elizabeth had instructed them to always keep the nursery tidy even when a servant attended to the room each morning and night. “They are rather lonely little things though aren’t they? Just the two of them,” said Lady Sybil, once again leaving Elizabeth at a loss as to what to say.

Elizabeth looked quickly to Georgiana but the young girl was distracted helping the children pick up the wrappings and if she heard anything, she acted as if she had not.

Lady Sybil did not seem to require a response and continued, “You seem to be doing very well with them though.”

“Thank you,” said Elizabeth. She knew that Archie and Rosie’s upbringing was more challenging due to the absence of a mother however, Elizabeth did not want to claim sole responsibility for how well they were doing considering her short time with them. Also, having only been acquainted with Lady Sybil for a few minutes, Elizabeth did not believe it was wise to comment on aspects of the Darcy family. For all she knew, Lady Sybil might have been tasked by Darcy, as Mason most likely had been, to monitor her.

“Well, we best be off. I see that you have quite a lot to teach my niece and nephew. Judging by the state of this room you have already achieved wonders. Come along Georgiana, we have some duties to attend to,” said Lady Sybil, proceeding to kiss the children goodbye for the moment.

Lady Sybil promised to have the evening meal with the children and extended an invitation to Elizabeth. Elizabeth was not certain that it was proper to dine with the family as she had never had such an invitation extended to her when she worked for her former employers. She always dined alone or with the children. Lady Sybil though was so determined, Elizabeth had no room to protest. As the two ladies exited the nursery, Elizabeth could not decide how she felt about Lady Sybil. Perhaps it was the stark contrast from her nephew’s treatment of Elizabeth that made Elizabeth uneasy as to the true intentions of Lady Sybil’s cordiality.

Regardless of Elizabeth’s feelings these invitations continued indefinitely with the two ladies having their meals with the children or spending time with them in the drawing room or nursery when the time permitted. Elizabeth was never certain what to think of their interactions during these times because their conversations on the surface always seemed so general with Lady Sybil relaying travel stories and amusing encounters she had with those in the upper echelons of society but Elizabeth noticed that Lady Sybil always found a way to bring Darcy into the topic of conversation.

“When he was younger, Darcy loved listening to his mother play the harp. Georgiana has filled that void now with her mastery of the piano. He is not much of a player himself. He prefers to listen. Although he does have a marvelous singing voice that he rarely allows us to hear,” said Lady Sybil one night. The party of five were in the drawing room. Lady Sybil was seated across from Elizabeth observing Georgiana playing a simple duet with Archie while Rosie turned their music sheets. “Perhaps we should have you all exhibit when Darcy returns with some of his friends,” continued Lady Sybil not missing a beat.

They all looked at Lady Sybil with a mix of surprise and apprehension. A letter from London had arrived noting that Darcy would be returning with six guests who would be staying at Pemberley for part of the summer.

“It would be quite the debut for Archie and Rosie, and of course Georgiana’s talent is unmatched,” said Elizabeth.

Since Darcy’s departure, Elizabeth had added music to the curriculum as a daily exercise regarding it as leisure time rather than the set lessons she was supposed to follow. As Mr Thorpe had alluded to during their first meeting, Archie also seemed to be engaged by music more than standard lessons. He took to the piano with surprising patience unlike Rosie who wanted to master playing within one sitting as she seemed to do with most things she put her mind to. Her impatience had resulted in her resigning herself to reading or drawing while Elizabeth taught Archie to play.

“There is always the harp,” Rosie would say when the frustration at playing the wrong notes consumed her.

Despite his apprehension Elizabeth knew that for Archie, the opportunity to showcase was the sort of thing that would show Darcy just how much he needed to give his son attention. Certainly his approval would no doubt encourage Archie to practise more. Elizabeth suspected that part of the reason that Archie was willing to put so much time into practising was related to the comment Lady Sybil had made regarding Darcy’s love of listening to music.

Archie’s interest in music had also pleased Georgiana who now had someone to impart her love and knowledge of music to and Elizabeth’s own interest helped Georgiana overcome some of her shyness to converse openly about aspects of playing that those she encountered in society did not have a great interest for.

As such, considering the work they had been putting in, Elizabeth was now excited at the prospect of the three younger Darcys showcasing their talents. Even in Rosie’s case, Elizabeth knew she could always sing or dance if it came to the worst. Georgiana would do well as she was a talented piano player and possessed great skill. While Elizabeth had plenty of passion for the instrument, she was not always strong when it came to the technical pieces due mostly to her lack of practise and over reliance on her innate talent which resulted in her playing pieces that were what Mary described as “conventional”. Mary preferred to play pieces that not many would want to subject their ears to listen to.

“I have no doubt you will all be marvellous,” said Lady Sybil, not concerned by the anxieties Georgiana, Rosie and Archie displayed.

Elizabeth smiled encouragingly at the trio wanting to quell their anxieties. However, judging by the look on all their faces, playing for a crowd was the last thing they wanted to do.

“I could not play in front of so many people Aunt Sybil,” said Georgiana.

Archie nodded in agreement. “Me neither, I have only started being good at it. I don’t want to make a fool of myself in front of Papa’s friends,” he said. What he left unsaid was that he did not want to make a fool of himself in front of his father.

“Nonsense, my dears,” Lady Sybil dismissed. “Georgiana you are a wonderful player and the whole party will consist of friends who you have met before and even played for while we were in London. Archie, you have already progressed so well. You will impress them all with your great skill at such a tender age. This will be good for all of you.”

Georgiana and Archie did not look convinced.

“Well I cannot even play one note with confidence,” said Rosie. She slumped on the seat next to Elizabeth in a defeated manner.

“We have plenty of time to practise some pieces,” said Elizabeth, trying to reassure her charges and Georgiana. “Georgiana and Archie you can always play a duet which will no doubt charm the guests, and Rosie,” at this Elizabeth pulled the girl into a hug, “I can teach you some songs if you much prefer singing to playing.”

Rosie seemed to consider this for a moment and deciding that she would be comfortable with singing, she beamed at Elizabeth, her confidence returning. Georgiana and Archie also looked relieved. Lady Sybil smiled as she observed how Elizabeth had managed the situation.

“You are proving to be quite the asset,” said Lady Sybil, holding Elizabeth’s attention for a moment before Elizabeth looked back at Rosie who was now chatting away with ideas for how she would dress for the occasion.

....

One afternoon, close to Darcy’s return, Lady Sybil invited Elizabeth into the morning room. Tea was served and after a few pleasantries and general enquiries about Elizabeth’s history Lady Sybil made the true intentions of her invitation known.

“I understand you are a gentleman’s daughter?” asked Lady Sybil.

“Yes, my father has a modest estate in Longbourn,” said Elizabeth.

“Did your own governess inspire you to pursue this path?” asked Lady Sybil.

Elizabeth shook her head and prepared herself for the impending judgement, “We did not have a governess.”

Lady Sybil was able to conceal the true extent of her shock and surprise well with only a slight incline of one sharply defined eyebrow. “Your mother must be quite the disciplinarian. How many siblings do you have?” asked Lady Sybil.

“Five sisters,” said Elizabeth.

This time she noted Lady Sybil could not hide her surprise as she said “Oh my! I think a more apt title for your mother is ‘warrior’. My own mother was exhausted with two children. How does your father fare with six women in the household?”

“He has his books and the estate to keep him company,” said Elizabeth fondly. The probing nature of Lady Sybil’s questioning annoyed Elizabeth but she was not going to allow her to cast an unfavourable light on her family. Elizabeth knew her upbringing was not conventional but she still loved her family, flaws and all.

“I see where your love for reading comes from,” said Lady Sybil referencing an earlier conversation the pair had had when Lady Sybil happened upon Elizabeth in the library. “And where were all of the eligible men in your village or town while you were making the decision to be a governess? There was no young man to woo you into becoming his wife?” asked Lady Sybil.

By the way Elizabeth shook her head slightly and chuckled to herself, Lady Sybil knew she was being too persistent with her questioning. Intrusive as her questions might be, Lady Sybil reasoned it was only to better understand Elizabeth and how she came to be a governess.

On her part, Elizabeth was reminded of how her decision to become a governess was not only motivated by the state of her family’s estate but also by the very men Lady Sybil believed should have wooed her.

Two summers before Elizabeth had set off for her first posting as a governess, a wealthy family, the Fairfields, had leased the estate of Netherfield which was one of the most prominent in the area. The eldest son, a Mr John Fairfield, was ready to marry and with her sister, Jane being the eldest and the most beautiful of the Bennet sisters, she was put forward as a candidate for marriage.

A marriage seemed promising as the gentleman was taken by Jane upon first meeting at a small assembly hosted by Charlotte’s father, Sir Lucas. Elizabeth still remembered the excitement her mother had exhibited at Jane being singled out by Mr Fairfield to dance with him. Following the assembly the two families had met on several occasions over the summer to further Mr Fairfield and Jane’s courtship. All seemed promising and certain until Mrs Bennet received news from a dear friend who was close with the Fairfields that the family had quit Netherfield to return to London without a word of explanation to Jane or the Bennets. The Bennets and in particular Mrs Bennet had remained optimistic until a couple of weeks later when it was announced in the papers that Mr Fairfield was engaged to a lady with a substantial dowry.

Elizabeth would never forget the hurt, devastation and humiliation that was painted across Jane’s face when she received the news. What hurt Elizabeth most was that Jane’s innate goodness prevented her from truly being angry at Mr Fairfield, finding one reason or another to excuse his actions. So despite the urge to want to strangle Mr Fairfield and his whole family, all Elizabeth could do was comfort her sister as she cried and fell into bouts of sadness for many nights afterwards.

All this Elizabeth could not possibly relay to Lady Sybil unless she wanted to be subjected to more of the same pity that was visited upon her family by their neighbours and people they had considered friends. So she simply said, "I am honoured that you regard me worthy of such attentions, ma’am. However to answer your questions, no, being a governess was not my life's ambition, I happened to fall in love with it by chance. And when a man comes who satisfies my heart I will consider the prospect of marriage."

“I see. Is that a sentiment rooted in a past experience or knowledge?” asked Lady Sybil. “As much as it seems like we have a choice in the matter, I have found that when presented with the alternative many women realise there is not much of a choice at all.”

“Not particularly,” Elizabeth lied. She was not going to reveal that her views on the matter were indeed influenced by the hurt visited upon her sister but also that viewing her own parents’ marriage had impacted her greatly. “Perhaps what I said was ill phrased. What I mean to say ma'am is that my decision on the matter will be influenced by the prospects of happiness and love that the match presents. While I know that the alternative to not being a married woman is rather bleak, I am not hard pressed to choose the conventional route simply for comfort.”

“The romantic notions run deep I see,” said Lady Sybil smiling more to herself at her suspicions about Elizabeth being proven correct. As she had observed Elizabeth during the weeks they had been acquainted, she had been curious as to the root of Elizabeth’s practical decisions to make a living when at such a young age she could have a number of suitors. Elizabeth’s statement on the need for love and happiness in the marriage proved that Elizabeth did not see herself being tied to a man simply for the financial and social security a union provided. Noble though the notion was Lady Sybil knew it was also very foolish to pass the opportunity of marriage as a matter of principle. She knew the motivation to not be married was easier during Elizabeth’s youth, however, as a woman grew older and society demanded more from her, her motivations might find themselves tested to their limits. At that point Lady Sybil was worried it might be too late for Elizabeth even with her beauty as an added inducement.

“Please do not take my views on the matter as a discount of my character. I can be very practical, hence why I am here working as a governess instead of pretending to live a life worthy of a gentleman's daughter when the financial means to do so are slim,” said Elizabeth. In her annoyance she was forgetting herself and revealing more than she wanted to do regarding her family. However she could not help but defend herself. She was not angry with Lady Sybil as her views on the matter were true. Elizabeth knew she was more of a romantic than the pragmatist she claimed to be; however, she also did not want Lady Sybil to analyse her life when they were so little acquainted.

“I believe a financially strong match might have been a good tonic to your predicament,” said Lady Sybil not relenting.

“Quite right, but I do not only value money when considering matters of such importance. There is the matter of compatibility,” said Elizabeth. At this, Elizabeth was reminded of her parents who were chalk and cheese and had been a good lesson for Elizabeth when it came to what she would consider in a partner. “Also I cannot marry a man who will only have me to be a decorative piece in their stately home, tempting as that may be. Not to mention one that cannot make me happy outside of buying me trinkets,” said Elizabeth and immediately regretted it for she knew it might come across as an attack on Lady Sybil who most likely had been married to a man who viewed her as someone to satisfy society’s views of what a landed and titled gentleman should have for a wife.

Lady Sybil surprised her when she laughed. “My dear but that is half the fun of marriage! Being spoiled rotten and living life to your heart’s content without having to lift a finger,” said Lady Sybil. She smiled showing that she knew the true intention behind Elizabeth’s words and would not take it as a slight. “I see your point. I was fortunate to have a husband who paid more attention to me than most husbands do and as such I was not only happy materially but emotionally for we grew to be very much in love,” said Lady Sybil wistfully looking off to an undefined spot for a moment as she was lost in a memory. “However, if there is one thing I have learned in my many years, it is that happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance.”

Elizabeth smiled recalling Charlotte had said something similar in a conversation they had before Charlotte left for India. “Perhaps, but I would rather avoid marriage all together than risk being shackled to a man that could never make me happy.”

“How can you be so certain that a man offering financial security could not make you happy?” asked Lady Sybil.

“Personally it boils down to one thing - I have to respect him,” said Elizabeth. “I can not marry a man and hope to love him if I do not respect him. So he could be the wealthiest man but if I do not respect him then no amount of wealth will be a convincing inducement lest I forget myself and cave to the basic needs of life”. Where previously she had been avoiding Lady Sybil’s eye due to Lady Sybil’s unnerving penetrating gaze, this time Elizabeth did not avoid eye contact as she was confident in her words.

“I wish more ladies had your conviction and that more people in society placed less emphasis on a woman’s marital status. Perhaps our descendants will enjoy that privilege,” Lady Sybil smiled encouragingly.

“I do not think so,” said Elizabeth. “With women like my mother whose entire life revolves around the marriage of my sisters and I, I doubt that our descendants will escape the shackles of society’s expectations. It has been that way for hundreds of years. It might take hundreds more to shift the status quo.”

“That is true,” said Lady Sybil seeing the wisdom in Elizabeth’s words. “However if you will allow me I will defend women like your mother because with five daughters, I think your mother is allowed to obsess about marriage,” Lady Sybil laughed and was glad to be joined by Elizabeth.

The ladies fell into a comfortable silence until Lady Sybil once again made her nephew the topic of conversation.

“He has a beautiful smile does he not?” asked Lady Strafford looking at Elizabeth over the rim of her tea cup.

Elizabeth, who had been lost in a memory of her mother obsessing about marrying her off, frowned, lost as to who Lady Sybil was referring to until she caught the small smile on Lady Sybil’s lips. Must she always bring him up? thought Elizabeth, resisting the urge to roll her eyes.

She followed Lady Sybil’s line of sight and saw that she had been looking at a painting of her niece and nephew with their mother. It was painted some years prior when Darcy was but a boy. In the painting Darcy was smiling at his mother and sister, a stranger to the Darcy of today with his stern and cold exterior. Have I ever seen him truly smiling? Elizabeth wondered. Perhaps to his children, for the brief moments they were in company together. Those smiles though did not exude the same brilliance as that of a man unrestrained by life.

When Mr Trent or Charlotte’s husband, Mr Milford smiled for instance, one could describe those as smiles. Mr Darcy’s attempts, at least as far as Elizabeth had observed, were more of a grimace. Or was she being unjust in her description due to her affinity for the aforementioned gentlemen and her dislike of Mr Darcy?

However, welcoming as Lady Sybil seemed, Elizabeth was not going to reveal these observations about her beloved nephew. Thankfully, Lady Sybil did not seem to require a response as usual although she continued along a path Elizabeth thought strange and unnecessary considering the subject of the discussion was a man Elizabeth did not care for to expend more energy than was necessary discussing.

“I always tell him to smile more. It really brings out his eyes,” Lady Sybil said.

This time she left the sentence hanging and Elizabeth was reminded of a fisherman baiting his prey. Why does she want to know what I think of Darcy?, Elizabeth sought to understand, confused at Lady Sybil’s motives. And although she did not want to engage in the discussion, refraining from doing so would result in an awkward stretch of silence that would most likely reflect on her as a poor partner in conversation.

So she was forced to reply, “I am afraid I have not had the pleasure of witnessing his smile,” Elizabeth responded, using her teacup as a shield to prevent her from saying any more. The surreptitious smile on Lady Sybil’s face told her that she had said enough which in Elizabeth’s case was too much. Why are we having this conversation! Elizabeth wanted to scream.

Lady Sybil tutted and shook her head as if she was sorrowful at the revelation. “That is truly a shame. He used to smile a lot when he was younger. Perhaps he just needs some encouragement,” said Lady Sybil, sipping her tea and eyes focused on Elizabeth. Elizabeth stared back, willing herself not to give her hand. She had no reason to be unnerved by Lady Sybil or at least that is what she tried to convince herself.

What Elizabeth did not realise was that Lady Sybil was mulling over the possibility that sitting before her was the solution to some of the problems that had been plaguing Pemberley and its master.

....

An advantage of Darcy being away was the opportunity Elizabeth had to immerse herself in Lambton’s small but vibrant society. Charlotte had introduced her to the parish committees that were responsible for the various activities on offer including choir, teaching Sunday School, and charity. Although she wanted to join the choir she knew Darcy might not find that favourable. A couple of his servants were part of the choir but an offhand comment he had once made about needing Pemberley’s servants to still represent him made Elizabeth wary of exhibiting herself in any way that would once again have Darcy finding fault with her. She was not a coward but she was also not reckless.

So she settled for teaching Sunday School and occasionally assisting with serving tea after the service. Following this, and unless Charlotte had a prior engagement to visit a family in the parish, Elizabeth would join Charlotte at their beautiful cottage a couple of miles from the church. Mr Milford was always engaged with one parish matter or another on Sundays but when the opportunity presented itself he would join them for a short while before he was called off for other business or he retreated to his study.
“It was a strange conversation Charlotte,” said Elizabeth on one such Sunday afternoon as she recounted her interactions with Lady Sybil including their last conversation. “I can accept the questions about my family or choice of work but she always seems to say or ask me things about Mr Darcy that I have no reason to comment on.”

Charlotte laughed as she poured some tea for Elizabeth and said, “I am sure she does not mean anything by it. Some people are just naturally curious and great ladies like herself are raised to not have any limitations as to what they can and cannot ask for.”

“But what does it matter whether he loves listening to music or has a good smile,” said Elizabeth. “It will not change the fact that he despises me.”

“Then perhaps that is why she is so adamant to speak of Mr Darcy in such a positive light,” said Charlotte, as usual seeing things from another perspective even though it frustrated Elizabeth to not have Charlotte in agreement with her. “She is his aunt and it only makes sense she would want you to have a better perception of her nephew than even he deserves.”

“Must you always do this, Charlotte?” asked Elizabeth feigning annoyance. She knew Charlotte had a point, however, that did not make it any more welcoming.

Charlotte laughed once more. She always enjoyed when Elizabeth could not resist seeing the sense in her reasoning.

“What frustrates me,” continued Elizabeth, “is that the way he treats his servants is different to the way he treats me. He is not unkind. He seems to be so very generous as a master as I have not heard a single servant say anything against him. It is only me he seems to be unkind towards.” Elizabeth’s brows knitted as if the effort would assist her mind in determining what it is in her behaviour that had antagonised Darcy. “And worse is how his children are so starved for love and attention and yet I can hardly broach the subject as I am more likely to lose my head,” said Elizabeth. She looked at Charlotte who only looked sadly back at her, sympathetic to her situation.

Charlotte could have said several things to fuel the fire of frustration in Elizabeth but she did not want to further sever the already fragile arrangement between Elizabeth and Darcy. In the safety of her mind however, Charlotte sipped her tea and contemplated all that her friend had said. It was too early to speak on the matter but there was something curious about the way Darcy seemed so affected by Elizabeth. Charlotte knew Elizabeth was excellent as a governess as was proven by the way Archie seemed to have bloomed. So aside from the initial disastrous encounter they had which Elizabeth had described to her in full detail, Charlotte could not see why Darcy was particularly against Elizabeth and yet had decided to keep her on.

Charlotte did not have a chance to dwell on these thoughts further as her husband returned. The couple then accompanied Elizabeth to the lane that would see Elizabeth walk back to Pemberley while Charlotte and her husband proceeded to one parishioners’ house for an evening meal.
...

The days leading to Darcy’s return were a hive of activity of preparing rooms and food to accommodate his guests. Unfortunately for Elizabeth, the day Darcy returned proved to be one of great misfortune. To start with, Darcy returned a day earlier than expected.

The events of the day unfolded with Elizabeth taking the children to enjoy a picnic by the lake which was further down the grounds from the house. The trio had taken an open carriage to better enjoy the sun and were joined by Georgiana who fancied some fresh air and a break from the preparations she and Lady Sybil were overseeing in anticipation of Darcy’s arrival.

Seeing that the preparations were close to completion, Lady Sybil also decided to rest and call on a friend, the also widowed Lady Cheswick who resided on the neighbouring estate, Darlington Hall. Lady Sybil set off midway through the morning and as such missed the coachmen who returned ahead of Darcy and his party with the luggage and in possession of a letter addressed to Lady Sybil and Georgiana the contents of which included the crucial detail that Darcy was due to return a day earlier.

The coachmen were distressed as they had been delayed due to an unfortunate encounter with a band of highwaymen. Fortunately no luggage was stolen as the coachmen had been travelling ahead of a stage coach that happened upon the attempted robbery and helped detract the highwaymen. However, the carriage was badly damaged and needed a wheel replaced and with two of the four horses badly injured, the coachmen had to make do with two horses considerably slowing their progress.

Upon receipt of the letter, and not needing to open it as the coachmen advised him of Darcy’s likely imminent arrival, Mr Thorpe had sent for Lady Sybil and Georgiana along with Elizabeth and the children to return. Lady Sybil was the first to arrive but only an hour before Darcy and his party also arrived.

Elizabeth and company, who were a couple of miles from Pemberley when Darcy and his party arrived, were unfortunate to be in an open carriage as the sky seemed to want to add its own spin on the day by deciding at precisely that moment to open up and drench Elizabeth, Georgiana and the children.

All these coincidences culminated in a moment that dwarfed Elizabeth’s first disastrous encounter with Darcy.

As Elizabeth, Georgiana and the children became visible on Pemberley grounds, Caroline Bingley spotted them from where she had been seated with a vantage point of the window in the drawing room where Darcy and his guests were settling.

“Oh dear,” exclaimed Caroline Bingley, the sister of Darcy’s friend Charles Bingley who was amongst the small party that had arrived with Darcy. “Darcy it seems some of your servants were caught in the rain.”

Darcy had just been enquiring from Lady Sybil about the welfare of his children and did not pay Caroline’s statement any attention as he assumed it was an unfortunate groundskeeper running for shelter from the storm that had darkened the once blue sky.

“Is that Miss Darcy?” asked Caroline, standing up and moving closer to the window. “How unfortunate that she is in an open carriage and with children no less. This rain is unforgiving.”

Caroline’s statement was met with curious looks from the other guests, shock from Darcy and a cutting glance from Lady Sybil directed towards Caroline. Lady Sybil, who had dived into final checks in anticipation of her nephew’s arrival, had hoped that her nieces and nephew and Elizabeth would arrive before the rain.

Darcy moved slowly towards the window, his clenched jaw betraying his calm exterior. When he saw the carriage and its occupants he drew in a breath. Even from this obscured vantage point Darcy could see that it was not only Georgiana and his children but they were joined by Elizabeth. He only tore his eyes away from the scene when the carriage disappeared behind Pemberley to no doubt use one of the rear entrances.

While his eyes were focused on the events outside, Lady Sybil had approached to stand next to him. “They went for a picnic. I encouraged it as the children had been so good while you were away,” said Lady Sybil, with a nonchalance she did not feel. She was not lying in saying that she had suggested that Elizabeth should take the children for a picnic. However, Lady Sybil knew Darcy would lay the blame on Elizabeth regardless of how Lady Sybil vouched for her.

Darcy looked at his aunt and simply said, “Please see to it that the guests are comfortable.” He headed for the door not looking at any of his guests who looked on interestedly, especially Caroline who had been a key witness. The look on Darcy’s face could only be described as murderous.

Not being one to be commanded, Lady Sybil quickly delegated the task of tending to the guests to the footmen and she followed after her nephew. His strides were so wide she had to jog in an unladylike manner to reach him.

“As I said my dear nephew, please be aware that none of this is Elizabeth’s fault. She was not to know that it would rain,” said Lady Sybil, her breath was now coming in short spurts as she tried to keep up with Darcy who was marching across Pemberley’s hallways.

“You are on a first name basis now are you?” said Darcy cuttingly.

Lady Sybil ignored him and continued, “She is remarkable with the children for someone so young. If she has misstepped -,”.

“Aunt now is not the time to be a witness of her character,” said Darcy, dismissing Lady Sybil.

Lady Sybil did not have an opportunity to reply as they reached the staircase where they could hear a flurry of voices speaking excitedly.
Had it been someone other than Darcy who happened on this scene then that person would have joined in the merriment. Instead, Darcy paused at the top of the staircase observing the scene below him with a disapproving look that spoke volumes about his true feelings.

“We should do that again Miss Bennet, that was such fun!” said Rosie, having not yet noticed her father and aunt. The party had just alighted from the carriage full of merriment at experiencing something so unexpected and yet exciting due to its shared nature. Georgiana had directed the coachman to take them through the back entrance to avoid drenching the floors and carpets of the main entrance.

“I would have to agree with you Rosie,” Georgiana laughed as they climbed the stairs to the floor where the children’s rooms were located.

The conversation did not allow for the footman to interject and advise the party that Darcy had arrived.

“Did you both enjoy the rain that much? And what say you Master Archie, should we listen to your sister and aunt and - ,” Elizabeth did not get a chance to finish as Rosie, now noticed her father and dashed up the stairs towards Darcy shouting, “Papa, you are back!”

The rest of the party paused and looked up towards Darcy with a mixture of apprehension and horror.

Georgiana and Elizabeth chorused “Darcy!” and “Mr Darcy” in surprise and shock respectively, although Elizabeth did not realise she had uttered his name.

“Hi Rosie,” Darcy said with a strained smile hugging his daughter to him but failing to match her excitement. “Archie, Georgiana,” he added, looking at his son who fidgeted with the towel he had been using to dry himself. Darcy took a deep breath. “Georgiana, please follow our Aunt and take the children to their rooms. Thomas, fetch Bessie. She can help with the children,” he said.

“Yes sir,” the footman replied, proceeding to do as commanded.

Georgiana hesitated for a moment recognising what leaving her brother alone with Elizabeth might mean. She could sense his fury by the flatness of his voice which betrayed how he seemed to be clenching and unclenching his jaw ever so slightly. She had only witnessed Darcy in such a state once, last year and even though the party who he unleashed it on more than deserved it, Georgiana knew Elizabeth was not such a person. She looked at Elizabeth wanting to show her sympathy but Elizabeth had remained transfixed to the stair she was standing on staring up at Darcy, unable to look away from the storm brewing in his eyes. So she looked to her aunt who shook her head slightly as if to say “Leave it”.

“Come Georgiana, Rosie, Archie” said Lady Sybil extending her hand to her two youngest nieces.

The last thing they heard before they rounded the corner was Darcy saying in a cold voice “Miss Bennet, follow me”.

....

Darcy walked into a small room that looked like an office and after Elizabeth had followed he shut the door and levelled Elizabeth with a look.

Unbeknownst to Elizabeth, Darcy’s anger was not only directed at her but also at himself for the unexpected, visceral reaction his body had had at seeing Elizabeth again. Any hope he had had of the trip to London cleansing him of any thoughts of her was dashed. Darcy was grateful for the towel draped around her shoulders as it obscured his view of her figure which was now more pronounced by the wet dress clinging to her.

To combat the sudden desire his words were more fiery than he probably intended for them to be. However, he reasoned that it was the only way he managed to speak to her without doing something he regretted.

“What you are going to say next will mean the difference between you going upstairs to pack your bags and leave my house or staying on, unlikely as that is at the moment,” said Darcy.

The few moments of silence that had passed from when she first saw Darcy to when they entered the drawing room had given her time to come to the conclusion that she should be as remorseful as possible if she hoped to keep her job. Difficult as it was she was willing to accept all the blame he lay at her feet. Where before she had contented herself with the thought that any consequences were worth it for the happiness of the children, when she was now faced with the prospect of losing her employment she wanted to do everything in her power to ensure that was not the case.

Leaving Pemberley now was too difficult as she had become attached to the place and its occupants, save for its Master who looked like he could scorch her alive if he had the ability.

Elizabeth cleared her throat. Here goes nothing, she thought. “I am sorry sir. I take full responsibility. The children have been working so well since you have been away and I wanted to reward them,” said Elizabeth, making sure to maintain eye contact with Darcy whose eyes had not left hers. “The plan was clearly ill advised but I took them for a picnic near the great lake. The sky was clear this morning, no sign of rain at all. When we saw the sky starting to turn, that is when we were also informed that you were arriving soon. We hastened here and Timothy, the coachman tried his best to ensure we arrived before it started raining. However, it was too late. I did my best to shield Rosie and Archie from the elements.” Elizabeth held her chin up feigning a calm she could not faintly feel. She was grateful for the towel as it provided something for her to anchor herself.

Darcy was silent for what felt to Elizabeth like hours. When he finally spoke it was with a cool tone that cut through her much worse than if he had been screaming at her.

“Miss Bennet, you do not seem to understand how fortunate you are to be under my employ. If I were any other master I would have turned you away the moment I saw you sitting on that piano bench uninvited and yet here we are,” said Darcy.

Elizabeth closed her eyes at the reminder of their first encounter

“You say you did not anticipate the rain, fair enough the weather is beyond our will but why Miss Bennet did you think this activity necessary as a reward for the children?” asked Darcy but before she could respond he raised his hand silencing her. He continued speaking instead seemingly wanting their interaction to be over.

“I see that a lot more has been happening in my absence which I am certain I do not approve of. Unfortunately for me, with the guests here I cannot afford to search for a new governess so I will allow you to stay on. However, know that I will be watching your every move. If you so much as step out of line you will be on the next mail coach back to Hertfordshire!” At this, Darcy raised his voice slightly but quickly stopped himself. He took a deep breath and pinched the bridge of his nose, his frustration palpable. He looked at her a final time and said, “I will see you in my office tomorrow morning. Let this conversation serve as your final warning Miss Bennet.” He walked out of the room without a second glance.

Elizabeth stared at the door long after Darcy had departed. Any chill that had settled in from the rain was thawed by the heat of her heart hammering frantically. She took a deep, shaky breath struggling to process these last moments. Her time at Pemberley was proving to be far more complicated than she had anticipated.

Chapter Text

“Mr Darcy, we will have to leave now,” said Doctor Moore. The Doctor tried a further time to help Darcy to his feet without success. 

Darcy remained kneeling by the bedside. The only action he took was to look at his own hands which were covered in Anne’s blood. He could not find it in him to wipe it off. He closed his eyes for a moment to stop the fresh tears he could feel threatening to spill. However, when he opened them his once bloodied hands were clean. He noticed he was also no longer struggling to see under candlelight as the room was flooded with daylight and Doctor Moore and the nursemaid were now absent from the room.

Looking at the bed he noticed that it was also clean and Anne’s lifeless body was no longer lying there. He was not certain if he was even in the same room as that fateful night but the furnishings looked similar. 

Like the fateful night when his children wailed as their mother lost her life, Darcy now heard the sound of a baby except this time it was not a cry but a coo. The cooing seemed to be chorused by another similar sound. This was then followed by a soft voice saying: “There, there little ones.” 

This seemed to prompt Darcy to stand and he moved towards the open door which adjoined what seemed to be a nursery. His subconscious seemed aware of what it would discover beyond the threshold but it was also in a state of confusion as to the events unfolding. 

“Aren’t you beautiful?” the voice spoke once more as Darcy now had a full view of the room beyond. 

A woman with dark brown hair was looking down into a crib where two bundles lay. Without seeing their faces Darcy knew it was his children. As he walked closer, he also knew it was Elizabeth before she turned her head. Except this time when she looked up her smile was directed entirely at him. 

“There he is,” said Elizabeth. She extended her hand out to him, and still smiling, said, “Come Mr Darcy, the children have missed you very much.” 

Though he could not see his face, Darcy knew he was also smiling. As Darcy reached out his hand to take Elizabeth’s, his heart constricted as if recognising that something was amiss and the sharpness of the pain led Darcy to clutch at his chest. When he looked down at his chest to see what could possibly have caused such pain he saw that his hand was bloody once more. However, it was not his own blood that coloured it. He saw that his clothes now resembled the state they had been the night Anne had passed away. He looked up to Elizabeth and discovered she was no longer in the room, the crib was empty and that once more the room was dark with only a couple of candles providing some light.  

“Have you already forgotten about me?” a soft, tearfilled voice spoke from behind Darcy. He whirled around and stepped back in shock. Standing in the doorway between the nursery and the bedroom was Anne dressed in the same bloody dress she had died in. She was clutching her now baby-less stomach.

Darcy moved forward with a desperate plea of, “No, Anne I could never forget-.”  However, before he could say anymore or reach her, Anne suddenly shrieked, pointing a bloody accusatory finger at him, “You did this to me! You! And yet your heart is so fickle!” She moved forward with such speed, Darcy tripped over his feet in his attempt to move back and fell back scrambling for purchase. 

Before his dream body hit the ground Darcy came to, breaths coming in short spurts as he lay feeling restrained to the bed. As usual after one of his nightmares it took him a moment to acclimatise and remember he was no longer in the confines of his mind. He quickly sat up and reached, with a shaking hand, for the glass that was always by his bedside. His heart hammered frantically, requiring him to take more deep breaths to calm himself. 

This had been a first. Anne hardly ever spoke, moved or was still alive in his nightmares. He knew it was nothing more than his subconscious taking his already crippling guilt and using it against him. However, he could not fathom how his own mind could have been so cruel.

What he also found strange, but perhaps not surprising considering the earlier events of the day, was Elizabeth’s presence. He had not dreamt about her since the time he left for London, and he could not understand why his dream self had been so welcoming towards her, seemingly desperate to take her proffered hand. But however unwelcome her presence was, he would have appreciated to see how that version of events would have unfolded as compared to the horror of having the mother of his children accuse him of being the cause of her death. 

No matter how many times his family and friends had told him Anne’s death was beyond his control, Darcy, ever the responsible one, could not help but place the blame on himself. Even though it was his aunt and mother who agreed for him and Anne to marry, even though Anne had consented to having children in her sickly state, and even though in the few lucid moments before she passed she had even told him he was not to blame, Darcy still carried the guilt and responsibility from that night. 

He always wished that he could take it all back and prevent Anne from consenting to the marriage but then he would remember that taking it all back would mean his children would not be alive, and distant as he might be to them, Darcy knew he loved his children dearly. 

When, early on in his life as a widower, he had talked to Dr Moore, who had remained the children’s doctor long after the passing of their mother, Dr Moore had encouraged Darcy to let go of the guilt and blame he placed on himself. 

“It does not do to dwell on such matters Mr Darcy,” said Dr Moore sympathetically. “I have delivered hundreds of babies but in the same span I have not been able to save nearly as many mothers as I would like to. These things are beyond our capabilities and I have reconciled myself with the fact that only God knows why at the same time we rejoice at the birth of a new life, we must also suffer at the loss of another.”

Darcy had merely nodded. 

He had barely been able to speak to God for most of his children’s lives. Attending church was a formality for him as he knew he had to lead by example for his servants, tenants and the villagers. However, most of the time his mind would drift elsewhere, not really listening to the clergymen that delivered sermons at St John’s Parish. They all preached about letting go and trusting in God as Dr Moore had told him but sensible as the message might be, Darcy’s heart refused to listen.   

Now pacing about in his room, Darcy sighed wishing for day break. He could not risk walking this late in the night in case he alarmed the groundskeepers who would think he was an intruder. So he did the only thing that cleared his mind after such a bad dream. He wrote the whole dream down adding to the hundreds of dreams he had been penning down since Dr Moore had suggested the exercise to him some three years back. Had he been able to walk, he might have come back and done this later but since he was confined to his room, writing presented a better opportunity to find peace. Come morning he knew he would have a lot to face, what with his steward briefing him on the state of the estate in his absence, his guests needing to be entertained, his aunt possibly seeking an explanation from him about Elizabeth and Elizabeth being the anomaly he could not quite figure out. 

While Darcy scrawled away, in another wing in the house, Elizabeth was also frantically writing. In her case, it was about a nightmare she had lived through earlier that day and now had to share in a letter to Jane. It was her third letter of the night having first written one when, after Darcy's stern warning, her feet had finally carried her to her bedroom. 

The first letter was stained with tears and she had almost decided to not send it as the ink was so smudged it made her writing unintelligible in places. However, she thought the letter landed a lot of credence to her emotional turmoil. The second had no evidence of tears although Elizabeth had still felt quite overwhelmed while writing it and had used the opportunity to expand more on the stream of consciousness style she had adopted in her first letter. The third letter, and she hoped for it to be the final one, was being written after another failed attempt to sleep.  

It is strange dear sister, and I can not fathom why every time he treats me in such a belittling manner I can never seem to pluck up the courage and defend my actions. Every time it is as if I am all of five and mama is scolding me for climbing a tree and tearing my dress. Except with mama the scolding would be warranted as she is, after all, my mother and reserves the right to discipline me but with Mr Darcy the injustice of his harshness is so acute. And yet I have barely done or said anything to ensure I retain my dignity.”

At the conclusion of this sentence Elizabeth huffed frustratedly, the shame of the earlier events of the day encroaching. She could not understand why she had not just said the truth of the matter instead of trying to appease Darcy by taking the blame for something that she knew was a good deed while she just stood there like a mute in her wet and cold dress as Darcy scolded her. 

Elizabeth put down the quill and stood from the chair. She vowed she would conclude the letter later. Her head was starting to ache with all sorts of thoughts, chief among them being how to confront Darcy come morning and whether she should listen to the voice telling her to run for the hills. 

She began pacing around the room. Are the children really worth all this trouble?, Elizabeth wondered. She knew she had grown to love the children but perhaps the inability for her and Darcy to reach common ground was a sign that she should find employment elsewhere. For what good was it to care for the children when their father undermined everything she did for their good? 

Elizabeth wished for Jane’s wise counsel in that moment and she even missed her younger sisters who would no doubt have given their own unflattering opinions about Darcy. Overall, the warmth her family exhibited even in their dysfunction was what Elizabeth missed most. She never felt out of place at Longbourn and yet at Pemberley even when Darcy was away and she had had more autonomy with how to educate the children, Elizabeth had still not felt at peace. 

As she found herself situated at the mirror at her dressing table Elizabeth said to her reflection, “I think it might be time to admit defeat and leave before it is too late.”

This was followed by a low, “Please do not leave,” to which Elizabeth shrieked, clutching at her heart in panic. Looking behind her she spotted the source.

“Master Archie!” said Elizabeth moving towards him, where he was half concealed by the door. As Archie looked just as panicked, no doubt believing he had done something wrong, Elizabeth refrained from letting him know how much of a fright he had given her. She said instead, “Whatever are you doing up? Did you have a bad dream?” Elizabeth knelt before him, eyes roaming over his face to check for any signs of distress or pain. 

“No, I could not sleep,” said Archie, shaking his head. “I was worried that Papa might have sent you away. So I came to see for myself if you were still here.” His stealth impressed Elizabeth as she had not heard the heavy door opening.

“You are too kind Archie,” said Elizabeth. “Fear not, I live to see another day.” Elizabeth attempted to smile but she knew she had not convinced him.

“I am sorry about whatever Papa said to you,” said Archie.

“Do not trouble yourself dear. Your father did not say or do anything to hurt me,” said Elizabeth. She did not want Archie to think any worse of his father. “If anything he was most gracious,” said Elizabeth. She knew it was a stretch of the truth but it was still partly true that Darcy had given her another chance. He might have dismissed her on the spot otherwise.

“Still I am sorry you got in trouble,” said Archie, his eyes showed wisdom way beyond his young years. “And I know that now Papa’s back things will have to go back to normal. So thank you for the fun we have had these last couple of months.” Archie smiled. He threw his arm around Elizabeth who could only hug him in return trying to keep the tears at bay. She hated that such sweet children were subjected to a life where their father was more of a spectre, even as he endeavoured to provide for them materially. Elizabeth reasoned that perhaps leaving was not a wise plan after all. Necessary as it might be for her wellbeing, being the bright spot in the children’s lives meant more to her than the torture of working under their father.

After a moment Elizabeth let go of Archie and hastily wiped away at a tear or two that had escaped. She directed Archie back to his room and after seeing that he was tucked into bed with the promise that she would see him again upon daybreak, Elizabeth returned to her room feeling more inspired to finish the letter to Jane. 

....

The next morning Bessie found her sleeping at the desk where, after concluding the letter, Elizabeth had laid her head on the desk believing it to be for a moment only to be consumed by sleep before she relocated to her bed. Bessie brought news with her that Darcy wanted to see Elizabeth before he broke fast with his guests. 

“I cannot even have the benefit of a light meal. Shall I feign lightheadedness to escape the inevitable lecture?” said Elizabeth. Bessie laughed enjoying Elizabeth’s dramatics. The two had established a camaraderie as they spent more time in each other’s company than with other servants in the house. Although she was younger than Elizabeth and had only ever lived in the neighbouring village of Lambton before assuming employment at Pemberley, Bessie made for good company. She was soft spoken and very obliging which made it easier for Elizabeth to delegate tasks. 

“Master Darcy means well,” said Bessie. As usual she would never encourage Elizabeth to speak ill of Darcy. “Most masters would have sent any of us packing for far little.” 

Elizabeth could not disagree with that. However, Bessie’s comments did nothing to quell her worries that maybe Darcy had gone back on his word and was now sending her packing. She could not help wondering why he had not dismissed her considering, as Bessie had highlighted, under any other Master she would have been on her way home last night. At some point last night the prospect was welcome but after speaking to Archie, staying on was not as daunting an idea if it meant continuing to teach him and his sister. 

As she made her way to Darcy’s study, Elizabeth knew that word of what had happened between her and Darcy had already travelled among the servants. The little glances that were cast her way by the footmen, the whispers as she passed by a pair of maids and the knowing look directed her way by the butler, Mr Mason as he exited Darcy’s study on her way in, told her all she needed to know. What exactly had transpired might be a mystery to the servants but Elizabeth knew that the servants were aware that whatever was said was not in Elizabeth’s favour. They were probably surprised that she was still at Pemberley.

Elizabeth sighed as she shook her hands slightly to rid herself of the nervous energy that had set in as she waited for Darcy. The servants’ behaviour was a reminder of the society back home when her sister’s hopes of a marriage with Mr Fairfield were dashed. People always love to talk. Another subject will interest them soon, Elizabeth thought, trying to be unfazed by the attention. 

While she waited, Elizabeth forced herself to stay still, by rooting herself to the spot and clasping her hands in order to not give in to the temptation to move around Darcy’s study which she realised she had never been in alone. On her previous visits she had not allowed herself to admire the room nor had she had the opportunity to do so owing to Darcy’s unnerving presence. 

Without the worry of Darcy observing her Elizabeth, still standing in one place, glanced around the study taking in its beauty and in particular the bookshelf behind his desk which stretched from wall to wall and all the way to the ceiling. While Pemberley’s library held a beautiful collection in a magnificently decorated room, something about the titles on Darcy’s shelves added to the room’s beauty. The books were not the contemporary, cloth-bound texts lining the library’s shelves, these texts ranged from ancient codices to heavy tomes and leather bound books with metal clasps. They were no doubt precious which explained their selection to be in a room barred from public access. Elizabeth was itching to open them but before that thought could form into an action she was startled by a sound from the corner of the room. 

A section of the wall suddenly shifted and Elizabeth realised it was a door from behind which emerged Darcy. He did not look at Elizabeth but proceeded to his chair and directed Elizabeth to sit after which he also took his seat. Elizabeth could never not find his sense of propriety vexatious as she wondered how a man who always displayed such gentlemanly manners could have such a displeasing manner. 

He proceeded to speak to her officiously, hardly pausing, nor giving her room to comment nor looking at her face. Darcy instead chose to look at the papers and ledgers on his desk as if she was not worthy of being addressed with some respect.

“As I said yesterday Miss Bennet, that was the final warning. You embarrassed me in front of my guests and it is a wonder none of them were offended by your display. I would have made an ultimatum that you are to leave as soon as my guests also leave however, the process of finding a new governess is arduous,” at this Darcy sighed resignedly. “I have also already heard from Mason and Thorpe that you deviated most severely from the curriculum and schedule I had set. While nothing can be done for the lost time, I assure you that I will be monitoring everything to ensure that no more time is lost. From now on I am increasing the meetings from once a week to three times a week and I will also be observing a couple of lessons, time permitting. I will be combing through everything and I want to see that the plan is followed exactly as set out.” Darcy paused as he seemed taken for a moment by the contents of the paper in his hand. He continued, “While my guests are here I expect the utmost level of decorum from you and the children. They are to greet the guests tonight and my aunt informed me she wants the children and Georgiana to exhibit, outside of that I do not expect to see the children disturbing the guests. I trust all this does not need repeating. I will send a footman to call for you and the children after dinner.”

So long had been his instruction Elizabeth felt like taking a deep breath on his behalf. She was once again reminded of their first meeting in his study where she had almost felt sympathy for him considering his responsibility as a widower. In this moment she could only feel contempt for his insistence to once again disregard the best interests of his children. His behaviour was not surprising though and the Elizabeth who had arrived at Pemberley earlier in the year might have taken offence at his remarks, however, Elizabeth now understood that she owed it to the children to withstand Darcy and his foul manner. This thought did not make the prospect of returning to the status quo with even more stringent rules any more pleasant though.

“I believe you are dismissed,” said Darcy when Elizabeth remained seated. 

You never dismissed me! Elizabeth thought, rolling her eyes. His immersion in his work meant he could not see anything beyond the papers on his desk.

As Elizabeth moved to the door, her wounded pride screaming to make its presence known, Elizabeth turned back to Darcy, heart beating frantically, and asked: “If you do not mind me asking -.”

“I very much mind,” said Darcy impatiently. At this he cast her a withering glance that would have intimidated weaker beings. Elizabeth was not such a person. 

She cleared her throat and continued as if she had not been interrupted, to which Darcy frustratedly threw down the paper he was holding and finally looked squarely at Elizabeth as she spoke, impatience rolling off him in spades. “If you do not mind me asking, Sir ,” her mocking tone was slightly concealed by the fake smile plastered on her face, “have you looked at the children’s results from the time you were gone?”

Darcy narrowed his eyes, “Miss Bennet do you truly wish to keep your job? Because the line of questioning you are pursuing does not display to me that you care about your security in this position.”

Elizabeth was saved from saying something she would regret, by a knock on the door. Instead of calling for the person to enter, Darcy stood to open the door himself. With the way he stood up, roughly pushing his chair back and glaring at Elizabeth as he rounded the length of his desk, it was clear he was beyond frustrated with the situation and had needed the short walk to the door as an outlet for this. It was fortunate the chair had not tipped back making the scene more dramatic. 

Elizabeth only stared at Darcy, chin held high, refusing to cower at his glare until he reached the door and she used the few seconds of reprieve to take a calming breath as she was feeling her heart threatening to burst. If he was frustrated then she was incensed. She had wanted to leave, had hoped to reach the door without giving in to the temptation to speak but those few steps she had made towards the door were enough for her to think on how ignorant he was to the workings of his children. To merely decree that they resume life as it was before his departure without acknowledging how well they had worked while he was away was simply cruel. So willing as she was, for the sake of the children, to take the blame for what she had technically done well and to acquiesce to his ridiculous desire for control, she could not stand by while he completely ignored what Archie and Rosie had achieved. Had it not been for the interruption, Elizabeth was certain she would have lost her job.  

“Ah, there you are.” Elizabeth heard Lady Sybil’s voice say. Elizabeth could not help her small smile as she knew Lady Sybil would undoubtedly rescue her from this situation. “Am I interrupting something?” she heard Lady Sybil ask Darcy. 

Darcy opened the door wider allowing Lady Sybil to enter. He walked back to his desk saying, “No, Miss Bennet was on her way out. She need not concern you.” 

Lady Sybil ignored her nephew and offered Miss Bennet a warm, sympathetic smile. “Good morning my dear. I trust you managed to get some rest?” 

Darcy in turn pinched the bridge of his nose clearly annoyed at his aunt’s intrusion. 

Elizabeth felt satisfaction at having someone show Darcy that his authority did not apply to all things at Pemberley. “Good morning Lady Sybil. Yes, I did. Thank you for asking,” said Elizabeth, hating herself for lying but knowing that admitting the truth of her horrid, sleepless night would only raise more questions and not make the already precarious situation with Darcy any better.

“Well, you have a busy day ahead, what with preparing the children to meet our guests, I shall not hold you up any longer,” said Lady Sybil choosing to dismiss Elizabeth on her own terms. Her look though said she had more to say to Elizabeth but would choose a more opportune time. 

Elizabeth almost laughed at the comical look on Darcy’s face who clearly could not believe his aunt’s subversion. Serves you right, thought Elizabeth as she exited the room with a warm farewell for Lady Sybil and a cutting “Sir,” and barely visible curtsy directed towards Darcy.

“Must you always undermine me like that Aunt?” Darcy asked as Elizabeth closed the door. He resumed his seat and now looked properly at the paperwork which, while Elizabeth was in the room, he had only used as a ruse to distract himself. 

Following his confrontation with Elizabeth and after his mind had calmed and he was in solitude, Darcy had immediately regretted his decision to command Elizabeth to see him so soon. The nightmare he had had made the whole situation worse as he was uncertain how to interpret her presence in it. That is why he had approached this meeting as if he was a general rattling orders to a soldier. He had wanted her in and out of his study in under five minutes and had even contemplated writing her a letter to save him the trouble of being in her presence. 

Once again he lamented at his own foolish belief that London might have been the cure to his “governess problem”, as it clearly had not been. Now he was stuck for a solution as looking for a new governess when he had guests to attend to would be a challenge. 

This predicament was the least of his problems though as he knew that a much more pressing issue was that of his undeniable attraction to Elizabeth. He had hoped his time away would diminish it but it had only seemed to grow as was proven by the way his heart skipped a beat when he set his eyes upon her through the rain splattered window while she shielded his children from the rain. 

While he was in society he had fooled himself to believe that the ladies of the ton would offer a distraction. Not dreaming about her had added to this misbelief as he knew his overactive subconscious would have conjured some image of her. However, when he really reflected on how he had interacted with the ladies in London, his governess had not been far from his mind. He had compared the other ladies’ affected smiles to Elizabeth’s effortless and genuine ones although they had never been directed at him besides in his dream. He had compared how the other ladies conversed with the objective of flattering him while Elizabeth, even in their brief interactions, seemed determined to do anything but that. On the journey back he had tried in vain to pretend that the prospect of seeing Elizabeth again did not fill him with dread.

When he had finally set his eyes upon her he knew the dread had been warranted and he cursed his false belief that the attraction had been a fluke. The sight of Elizabeth drenched, her wet dress defining a surprisingly shapely figure, her hair loose and her cheeks flushed, had so affected him that he had doubted his intentions when he directed her to the secluded sitting room. He knew part of the reason he had been so harsh towards her was due to the sudden desire that he did not know how else to channel except in anger. Unfair to her as it might be, it was the only way he could reign in control. It had taken everything in him to walk out of the room without a second glance for even though he did not agree with her actions with his children, he could not deny that he was drawn to Elizabeth. 

Which is possibly why, he realised, she had appeared in his nightmare. Which is why he had regretted setting the meeting and as a result had made a fool of himself by trying to rush through it. And which is why for now he had resolved himself to endure Elizabeth for as long as he must. As much as he hated the process of looking for another governess, he reasoned he might have to start the search sooner rather than later. 

“Oh hush Fitzwilliam!” said Lady Sybil, bringing him back to the moment. “No one was undermining you but yourself.”

Darcy looked at her as if she was a mad woman, “How could I possibly be undermining myself?”

Lady Sybil sighed and said, “One of these days you really must open your eyes and realise the asset Miss Bennet is instead of being so at odds with her as you stubbornly insist on being.” And as if she had heard Elizabeth making the same enquiry she asked, “Have you looked at the progress the children made while you were away? It is remarkable and all because of Miss Bennet no less.”

“I believe they could have progressed further had she followed their set schedule instead of going against me and doing what she damn well pleased,” said Darcy, finding it difficult to acknowledge that the work he had managed to review showed good results that he no doubt could attribute to Elizabeth’s efforts but was loathe to admit to his aunt as it would only encourage her. 

“I do hope you give her the benefit of the doubt,” said Lady Sybil.

“What is it you wanted to see me about?” asked Darcy, ignoring his aunt’s comment and effectively ending any further discussion about Elizabeth. 

Lady Sybil only smiled and proceeded to discuss the matter of their guests and how to entertain them. Her thoughts though were not too far from how she could shift her nephew’s views on Elizabeth. 

… 

Preparing the children to meet the guests afforded Elizabeth a much needed reprieve from thoughts about Darcy and the precariousness of her employment. Georgiana’s presence also helped. Although Georgiana was effectively the Lady of Pemberley, while Darcy remained unmarried, she gladly relinquished most of her duties to her aunt who not only had more experience in matters of hosting but was a natural at the role. 

“I know someday I will have to be in charge of my own household,” said Georgiana as she, along with Elizabeth and the children took a break from practicing. They had settled on Archie and Georgiana playing a duet while Rosie sang an accompanying piece. “However, I hope it will be a much smaller one than Pemberley. And please do not take that as me being critical of Pemberley.”

“How could I take it as such Georgiana?” said Elizabeth, trying to reassure Georgiana. “I know you love Pemberley very much but that does not mean you are not allowed to reflect on how its grandeur impacts on one’s ability to run it as a household.”

Georgiana smiled, grateful for Elizabeth’s understanding, “Although I think you, Miss Bennet, would fall into the role naturally.” 

Though Elizabeth insisted Georgiana address her using her christian name, as Georgiana herself had insisted for Elizabeth to do, Georgiana could not seem to shirk the rules of propriety and always called Elizabeth ‘Miss Bennet’.

“The role of being a lady of a great house?” Elizabeth laughed.

“Yes!” exclaimed Georgiana, surprising Elizabeth who was accustomed to a usually reserved Georgiana. Over the short time they had known each other, Georgiana had become more comfortable expressing herself and Elizabeth was enjoying the display of emotion. Georgiana continued, “You are confident and self assured. You are also very innovative and resourceful, going off the remarkable work you have done with my niece and nephew. Even my ladies maid, Florence tells me Bessie has nothing but kind words to say about you for the way you treat her as an equal. You would be invaluable to any household.”

Elizabeth coloured slightly for having such praise heaped on her especially from one as reticent as Georgiana. “That is very kind of you Georgiana,” said Elizabeth suddenly longing for a life which would allow her to be a lady of an estate such as Pemberley. 

It was not that the prospect was impossible. If she really wanted to she could have married the men in her village who had shown an interest even when she had spent most recent years away from home. However, after growing up with most of them and interacting with them at assemblies or balls, Elizabeth could not find a man among them who truly captured her heart or stimulated her intellectually. Particular as she might be considering she had not much to offer financially due to her small dowry, Elizabeth had always been keenly aware that she could not marry a man where she would be forced to flatter and please him. However, her greatest dilemma lay in the fact that such flattery was exactly what most men expected. 

“Well when the time comes that you will be married, you will also find that all the exposure you have had at Pemberley will be of benefit to assist with you running your own household,” said Elizabeth. 

Georgiana flushed for a moment and suddenly became interested in the stitching on her dress. She struggled to form her response, “It might be a while yet before my brother entrusts anyone with my wellbeing. Especially in such a permanent way.” 

When she looked up at Elizabeth the sadness reflected in her eyes led Elizabeth to move closer. Elizabeth hesitated to clasp Georgiana’s hands fearing she might be overstepping but in that moment Georgiana reminded her of Jane and the pain that had been visited upon her. So disregarding any fears about propriety Elizabeth proceeded to lay her hand on top of Georgiana’s. 

“I am sorry if my statement caused you any pain Georgiana,” said Elizabeth, hoping their contact conveyed some comfort. 

“It is not your fault Miss Bennet,” said Georgiana, trying and failing to convey a smile. “I was just reminded about something that happened a year ago. Why my brother might be hesitant -” Georgiana seemed to want to say more but thought better of it and instead said, “I do not want to burden you. Please forget I said anything.”

“You would not be burdening me Georgiana,” said Elizabeth encouragingly. She was curious as to what could have troubled the young lady to lead to her carrying such a heavy weight. Clearly Darcy was also affected by what had happened. Had a young man who had been betrothed to Georgiana broken his promise? Or had Georgiana fallen for someone who Darcy considered unacceptable? The latter seemed more likely to cause Darcy to be against the idea of Georgiana marrying and Elizabeth would not put it past Darcy to deny his sister her happiness for the sake of meeting some societal expectation about suitable matches.

“Please know I am here if you ever need to talk,” said Elizabeth, resolving to not push Georgiana for information despite her curiosity. 

Georgiana nodded appreciatively but was prevented from saying anymore when a footman arrived advising that Darcy wanted to see Rosie and Archie in his study instead of coming to visit them in the nursery. Georgiana tried to reassure Elizabeth that Darcy’s decision to see the children elsewhere was not a reflection of what had happened the previous day but Elizabeth knew better than to believe her, well intentioned as Georgiana’s attempts might be. Regardless of how Georgiana perceived her brother’s actions, she was not to know that Elizabeth was relieved as she could also do without seeing Darcy for a while longer.

The children’s visit with Darcy was brief and through their evening meal as they waited to be called to the drawing room, Archie and Rosie both seemed defeated, owing to what Rosie described as “Papa being unfair” about how the lessons would now be conducted. 

“He knows what is best for you,” said Elizabeth and struggled to look at Rosie as she knew the little girl would see through Elizabeth’s pretence at understanding Darcy. 

“If he does then why does he not just let us continue as we were when he was away?” asked Archie resignedly. He had barely touched his soup, choosing instead to stir it around his bowl. Elizabeth had tried to prompt him multiple times to finish to no avail. 

“Well your curriculum is set by a highly trained school master and your father no doubt wants you to derive maximum benefit,” said Elizabeth. She hated supporting Darcy in any way but she knew the best way forward was for the children to accept the change, unwilling as they may be. 

“But he said we did a good job and should keep it up. Only we have to go back to the boring routine,” said Rosie. 

Elizabeth was lost for words momentarily as she did not know whether to believe what Rosie had said considering that in their earlier meeting, Darcy had barely wanted to answer a question that related to what he thought about the children’s progress. She looked to Archie who nodded as if understanding what Elizabeth was thinking.

“I even asked him why we must go back to the boring routine, but all he could say was ‘that is what’s best’,” said Rosie doing a pretty accurate impersonation of her father, complete with an imaginary pat on the shoulder demonstrating how Darcy would have interacted with them. 

Elizabeth pretended to wipe her lips with her napkin to avoid outright chuckling at Rosie’s impersonation. And not wanting to incite any more grumbling from her charges Elizabeth simply said, “Then we have to trust he knows what is best,” to which Rosie only sighed and Archie continued playing around with his soup. 

When the footman arrived to escort them, Elizabeth had to fake being excited so as to motivate Archie and Rosie even though the last thing Elizabeth wanted was to face Darcy especially in front of his guests.

Upon entering the drawing room Elizabeth stayed back while the children, directed by Darcy, were taken around the room to greet the guests. Aside from Lady Sybil and Georgiana, the small party also consisted of four men and two women. The first man Darcy introduced the children to was a Mr Hurst, who was a portly man and seemed to be a lover of wine judging by the way he had moved on to a second glass before Darcy had made the last introduction. Seated close to Mr Hurst was his wife, Mrs Hurst, who could not have been more mismatched from her husband. While Mr Hurst was rather unkempt despite the fineness of his clothing which indicated that he had some wealth, Mrs Hurst was dressed in the latest fashions and rather overly so as the rich red of her gown clashed in a most unflattering way with her red hair (so perhaps she was well matched with her husband, Elizabeth decided). 

Seated next to Mrs Hurst was her sister Miss Caroline Bingley who, although unlike her sister in some ways with her dark hair and tall frame even while seated, still sported the same fashionable clothing as her sister which was only redeemed by the way the colour complimented her pale complexion. Elizabeth did not miss the disapproving look Caroline cast her way, especially when Lady Sybil moved from where she was seated next to Georgiana to converse with Elizabeth about the exhibition while Darcy finished the introductions. 

The rest of the men, who seemed to be familiar with the children save for one, consisted of a Mr Bingley, a handsome young man who neither looked nor acted like his sisters as he greeted the children warmly, giving them hugs and presenting them with some sweets to indulge later. Mr Darcy’s cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam exuded the same warmth as Mr Bingley and exhibited this by proceeding to tickle his niece and nephew. Elizabeth was surprised that Darcy, who loved order, seemed to enjoy the lighthearted moment; she reasoned that it was the Colonel’s status as family that exempted him. Finally, the children were introduced to Mr Forsythe who seemed like the youngest among the men present. He paid Rosie a compliment that somehow managed to compliment Georgiana’s beauty resulting in Georgiana blushing furiously while Darcy looked at Mr Forsythe with a challenge in his eyes as if daring the young man to say more. 

Elizabeth now understood the root of Georgiana’s comments about Darcy’s reluctance to see her married. If Darcy was to take offense at every man who so much as glanced Georgiana’s way, then Georgiana would never find a match. 

Outside of this observation about her master, Elizabeth’s fears at the greetings and introductions being stiff and cold, as she had come to expect with Darcy, were not warranted. The guests seemed amiable and were welcoming of the children exhibiting for them. This was evidenced by Mr Bingley saying: “That is most marvelous! How fortunate you are Darcy to have such a talented family.” This was received with annoyed looks from his sisters who no doubt, like all other ladies in society, believed their proficiency when it came to singing or playing an instrument was far superior than others.

“Remember children, you have nothing to fear. We have practised this multiple times and each time you excelled. This is no different,” said Elizabeth whispering to Archie and Rosie as they prepared to sing and play. She looked to Georgiana who had already seated herself at the piano bench, “That goes for you too Georgiana.”  She smiled and the trio smiled back, or tried to in Georgiana and Archie’s cases. Rosie on the other hand looked like she had been born for this moment. 

While they exhibited, Elizabeth stood by and turned the music sheets. Occasionally she would glance up to see the audience’s reaction which was a mixture of boredom, in Mr Hurst’s case; feigned interest, in the Bingley sisters’ case and joy from the rest of the party except (as she expected but was still annoyed by) for Darcy. It was not that he was disinterested or bored. He just seemed to be present without showing any emotion. Most of the time when she glanced up he would be looking down at his glass as if its contents had more to offer than a display by his own children and sister. 

What Elizabeth missed was that at the times when her eyes would shift back to turn the music, Darcy’s would ever so slightly glance back in the direction of the quartet. On his part Darcy was trying to enjoy the performance, actually he was enjoying the performance. After all he recognised that the children and his sister had put a lot of effort into and the effort was apparent with the way they hit the notes beautifully. However, (and this was where his enjoyment of the piece could not be savoured), Elizabeth’s presence made it difficult to concentrate. He was still dealing with all that had happened earlier in the day and hated that what his mind pretended to believe was contrary to what his heart felt. 

On one occasion, when caught up in his thoughts about the opposition between his mind and heart, Elizabeth glanced up while he was still looking in her direction. Their eyes locked. Desperate as he was to look away, Darcy was drawn in. If one was to look further than the bored expression he wore (or hoped he wore) while looking at Elizabeth, they would have discovered that Darcy was desperately wondering, How, when you are so determined to infuriate me, have you managed to capture me so? 

They were both forced to look away when the audience started clapping in reaction to the conclusion of the wonderful display. As he re-oriented himself to his surroundings and companions, he noticed his aunt looking at him with a knowing smile. Darcy quickly averted his eyes not wanting to give her the satisfaction of catching him unawares. 

Darcy joined in the applause, moving forward to embrace an excited Rosie and inviting Archie for a hug which he moved into with some hesitation, seemingly surprised that his father seemed to approve of the exhibition. 

As she had done when they entered, Elizabeth stayed back, allowing the guests and family to pass their compliments to the trio. She was trying to understand just what Darcy had found fault with when she had caught him looking at her during the children’s performance. He had not even tried to hide that he had been looking. Is there that much for him to disapprove of, she wondered. 

“What did I tell you, my dear,” said Lady Sybil, drawing Elizabeth from her thoughts. She embraced Elizabeth’s hands in a familiar manner which caught Caroline’s attention once again, “The children were wonderful. All your efforts have paid off. I think Bingley is even calling for an encore.”

“It is all thanks to you Lady Sybil. It was your idea after all,” said Elizabeth. 

“But the execution can only be credited to you,” said Lady Sybil. “I know the children will have to retire but you must stay for a little while.”

At this, Elizabeth’s eyes widened. While she was accustomed to dining with Lady Sybil and Georgiana. Such behaviour was not acceptable in respectable society. By the way Caroline Bingley’s eyes also widened, as her situation close to Elizabeth and Lady Sybil had allowed her to pick up their conversation, Elizabeth knew she would not be welcome. 

“Thank you Lady Sybil, but I am afraid that would not be appropriate,” said Elizabeth trying to move towards the children to direct them to the nursery.

“My dear, only London society worries about such things,” said Lady Sybil trying to work her charm and convince Elizabeth to stay. 

“While that may be true in theory, in practice I fear it does not apply,” said Elizabeth, looking pointedly at Caroline. 

Lady Sybil followed Elizabeth’s eyes to land on Caroline who had moved towards her sister to no doubt gossip about what she had overheard.

“Those girls are a thorn in my side, I tell you,” said Lady Sybil, doing a very unladylike thing and rolling her eyes. 

Elizabeth could not help laughing at Lady Sybil’s apparent disregard for the Bingley sisters.

Lady Sybil continued, “If it was not for Darcy’s generosity to extend this invitation to Bingley’s sisters, neither of them would be anywhere near Pemberley. Regardless, you are still welcome to stay, after such a wonderful display, even Darcy won’t mind.”

“No!” said Elizabeth in a panic. This drew the attention of the guests, including Darcy’s. She did not dare look at him lest his eyes strike her down with their venom. 

Elizabeth pretended to clear her throat and simply said, “Thank you for the invitation Lady Sybil but I really must go.” 

Lady Sybil did not fight her further resolving to find another opportunity to have Elizabeth in the company of their guests.

Elizabeth moved towards the children who were engaged in conversation by the gentlemen, save for Mr Hurst who was looking around no doubt to refill his almost empty glass. 

As she took the few steps towards the group, Elizabeth made a concerted effort to only focus on the children, who now seemed more relaxed after their performance, but had no choice but to look at Darcy when she was close enough to be heard. 

“Excuse me Sir, I believe it is time for the children to retreat,” said Elizabeth. 

Darcy did not have an opportunity to react or respond as Mr Bingley chimed in. 

“Miss Bennet!” said Mr Bingley with such enthusiasm Elizabeth felt like they had been acquainted prior to that night. “The children tell me you were instrumental in helping them practice. May I say how thoroughly I enjoyed their display. I hope we can look forward to more from the children.” His smile was so open that Elizabeth could not help returning it, disregarding her worries about Darcy. Mr Forsythe and Colonel Fitzwilliam nodded in agreement. 

“Thank you Sir,” said Elizabeth. She was apprehensive to speak more as she knew Mr Bingley’s easy manners would draw her into a conversation that would no doubt be met with disapproval by Darcy. So instead of engaging with Mr Bingley who seemed to expect her to elaborate on the background preparations or when the next performance might be expected perhaps, Elizabeth merely held out her hands to the children and said, “Come now Archie and Rosie. It is time for bed. Say good night and we can be on our way.”

She was grateful Rosie did not try to protest as she was wont to do with most things. The attention seemed to have been to her satisfaction as she was happy to part with her father, aunts and the other guests.

While farewells were bid, Elizabeth tried her best to not look at Darcy whose eyes she could feel on her. While he seemed to have enjoyed the performance, Darcy had not acknowledged her part in orchestrating it as the other gentlemen had. Criticise me all you want Sir, I shall bask in tonight’s glory, Elizabeth mused. She was satisfied that the children, along with Georgiana, had enjoyed themselves after all the hard work. Darcy would not rain on their parade.

...

Little did she know that the only person Darcy was critical of was himself for not having control over his feelings when it came to Elizabeth. 

As Elizabeth and the children left the drawing room Darcy moved to the wine table and poured a glass for himself. He was not so dramatic as to take it in one swig as he so desired for he knew that one too many eyes, including his Aunt’s, were on him. So instead he took his time to drink away from the group for a moment taking in the conversation with little interest.

“I must say Darcy that was quite a show by the children,” said Caroline Bingley, voice as affected as ever. 

Lady Sybil, who had moved to sit across from Georgiana, caught Georgiana’s eye and once again rolled her eyes. She had never concealed how much she disliked Caroline. 

“I must teach one of my favourite pieces to them and we can put on a show for everyone. And I must duet with you Miss Darcy,” said Caroline. At this, Caroline moved from where her sister was seated to situate herself on the settee Georgiana occupied. 

Georgiana could only smile awkwardly. As tolerant as she was of most people, Georgiana rather disliked how Caroline used her as a pawn to gain her brother’s affections. Their interactions in London had been awkward as Caroline would pay her such ridiculous compliments to elicit a reaction from Darcy or would call on the family under the guise of seeing Georgiana only to spend most of the time talking about Darcy. She knew Caroline had designs for her brother and had no objections if the two were to marry as long as Darcy was happy, but to so shamelessly be used to fulfil that end did not sit well with Georgiana. 

“Louisa do you not think Miss Darcy looks prettier since we last saw each other in London?” said Caroline, looking at her sister who responded in the affirmative saying, “The Pemberley air agrees with her.” 

Georgiana could only nod, hating the scrutiny. 

Before Caroline could continue with her flattery, Mr Forsythe, sensing Georgiana’s discomfort, said, “I for one look forward to having the Pemberley air improve my features.” He turned his face this way and that as if to demonstrate the areas which needed improvement. 

The small giggle from Georgiana was worth the momentary foolishness. Her cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam moved the conversation back to the children’s performance which suited most guests except Caroline who seemed disappointed to have lost her moment. However, seeing Darcy unoccupied, she moved towards him and made a point to ask the footman to fix her a drink. 

“You governess is quite something Darcy. If it had been my father, she would have been on the carriage back home and even then papa might have made her walk!” Caroline laughed, relishing in the memory of the late Mr Bingley. 

Darcy only sipped his wine. After being in Caroline’s company as long as he had, her attempts to engage him were never as fruitful as she hoped. He was never dismissive nor did he encourage her but he only ever responded where he felt it was necessary. The only problem was Caroline hardly ever said anything that necessitated his response but Caroline never seemed to tire of his unresponsiveness. 

In this case, her attempts to speak on the affairs of his household did not sit well with him and it only served to annoy him further that Elizabeth had made such a display the previous day to the point that his guests were privy to it.

Unaware of the object of his thoughts Caroline moved towards the piano saying, “How about some music? Darcy you look like you could use more cheering.”

“And that will be my cue. Enjoy the rest of your evening everyone,” said Lady Sybil rising from the settee at exactly the moment Caroline seated herself at the piano. Caroline did not look pleased, but to vex her even further Lady Sybil said, “Darcy, will you see me out?” which effectively left Caroline to play to a rather disinterested room. 

“So what did you think?” asked Lady Sybil as Darcy accompanied her to the stairs that would lead her to her apartments.

“The children were wonderful. Bingley was right we should have them exhibit more,” said Darcy. By the way Lady Sybil tutted he knew that was not what she wanted to hear. 

“If you must be stubborn Darcy then so be it but after such a display how can you possibly not see how you stand to gain if Miss Bennet remains here?” said Lady Sybil.

Darcy huffed. “She is still here is she not?”

“For how long when you seem intent to find fault with anything she does?” said Lady Sybil. 

“I think as her employer I am entitled to monitor her as a servant of this household,” said Darcy. “In any case, one good show, which I know you orchestrated,” said Darcy looking pointedly at Lady Sybil, “is not enough to redeem her especially after yesterday’s events.” 

“Perhaps. But what if you tried to be more civil?” asked Lady Sybil, letting go of Darcy’s arm to prepare for her ascent up the grand staircase. 

Seeing the look of disbelief on Darcy’s face as he no doubt did not believe he needed to shift anything in his behaviour, Lady Sybil continued, “I have been in her company for the better part of a month and I have nothing but praise for her. She cares for those children. So yes, perhaps she does not follow your orders as precisely as you may wish. She means well.

Ask yourself this Darcy, if she truly is an enemy as you have made her out to be, how come the children have not only improved in their learning but also seem lively? If one was my enemy I hardly think they would be so intent in doing what was best for me,” said Lady Sybil.

Before Darcy could state his case, she bid him goodnight and continued up the stairs leaving him to ponder on her words.