Actions

Work Header

The Governess & The Master

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.