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.
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.
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.
“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.
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”.
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.