Read The Darcys of Pemberley Online

Authors: Shannon Winslow

Tags: #prejudice, #sequel, #jane austen, #darcy, #austen sequel, #pride, #elizabeth, #pemberley

The Darcys of Pemberley (8 page)

BOOK: The Darcys of Pemberley
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Jane and Mr. Bingley quit Pemberley shortly
after Christmas. They so keenly anticipated installing themselves
in their new home that, once their furniture and servants had
arrived, nothing could detain them any longer. The Bennets remained
a few days more, allowing the Bingleys time to settle in at
Heatheridge before joining them there. At the insistence of their
hosts, the Gardiners twice forestalled their own departure,
ultimately extending their stay at Pemberley to a full three weeks.
For Darcy and Elizabeth, the presence of the lively Gardiner
children increased the satisfaction of this visit, serving as a
pleasant preview of what the place would be like some years hence
when, if all hopes and expectations were fulfilled, they would have
a house full of children of their own.

 

Chapter 8

 

Preparations

 

With Christmas over and her company gone,
Elizabeth turned her attention to the upcoming ball, which would be
the grandest social function to be held at Pemberley since her
marriage. Preparations were well underway – the invitations sent,
the menu planned, the food and wine ordered, and the musicians and
extra servants hired – yet much remained to be done.

“I confess, I am a bit unnerved by the
daunting prospect of this ball,” she admitted to her husband as
they walked out together one morning. They had passed through the
gate and started down the lane, snow crunching underfoot. The coat
of white, sparkling in the sun, lay four inches deep on the ground
and threatened to overtop Elizabeth’s half boots with each step.
Undeterred, she pressed forward, glad for the airing made possible
by a break in the weather, and equally glad for Darcy’s steadying
arm whenever her foot slipped. “It is a larger undertaking than I
had supposed, and I do so want everything to go well for
Georgiana’s sake.”

“You have nothing to fear, my dear,” he
assured her. “The arrangements are well in hand, and surely the
ball itself can hold no terrors for you. You have attended events
of this sort many times before, and you know how to conduct
yourself.”

“As a guest, yes, but now I shall be the
hostess. The limited training I received at Longbourn simply does
not apply here; the scale of the affair renders any comparison
ridiculous. These are uncharted waters. And it occurs to me that
any serious
faux pas
on my part shall be viewed by some as
proof that I am unsuited to my new station. I could laugh at my own
embarrassment easily enough, but I should hate to bring any
disgrace upon Pemberley or the Darcy name.”

“I will not have you worrying about such
things, Elizabeth. Nothing you would ever do could disgrace the
family. You should also remember that those invited are not the
sort who will be anxious to judge you or eager to see you
fail.”

Elizabeth’s mouth curled at one corner. “True
enough. After all, Lady Catherine will not be admitted, will
she?”

“No, she most certainly will not!”

“Hopefully she sends no spies to ferret out
my errors either. I should hate to provide her with more ammunition
to use against me, for she finds me too easy a target for her
derision as it is. She is my severest critic.”

“Only because you had the audacity to defy
her.”

“Alas, we have both fallen out of your aunt’s
favor. I suppose we shall have to bear her absence as best we
can.”

The ball was to be, first and foremost, a
celebration of Georgiana’s eighteenth birthday. However, it would
secondarily serve as another opportunity for Miss Darcy to mix with
her peers and meet potential suitors. Her brother always preferred
this sort of social intercourse to occur under his watchful eye,
within his sphere of control. In this case, he held sway over the
most important factor of all: the guest list. To ensure that a man
was not coveting Georgiana’s money, it stood to reason that he
should already possess plenty of his own. This guiding principle
tended to limit the list of eligible candidates to those in the
first circles of society.

Prospective beaus were not the only people
invited to the ball, however. The guest list included friends,
family, and neighbors as well. Yet, due to the unpleasantness of
traveling in winter and the competition from other options in town,
only a few of the Darcys’ closest friends from the south would be
attending. On these grounds, Mr. and Mrs. Bennet were spared the
inconvenience of another invitation to Pemberley so soon, the
presence of Mrs. Bennet at the ball being one calamity for which
Elizabeth felt her strength of fortitude totally unequal.

The week prior to the event, the rarified
tranquility of the house necessarily yielded to an atmosphere of
industrious activity. Everywhere servants bustled to ready
accommodations for overnight guests, to lay in stores of food and
other supplies, and to polish bright each surface of every room.
Out of doors, the grounds were carefully groomed and the stables
prepared for the extra horses and carriages expected. By the day of
the ball, Pemberley stood ready to receive and delight her
guests.

Upstairs that evening, equal pains were taken
to ensure that the principal parties would also display to best
advantage. Mr. Darcy, with his excellent tall person and noble
bearing, needed little assistance to look the dignified host; a new
suit of clothes in impeccable taste sufficed. The ladies naturally
required more exertion on their behalf. Maids worked to style and
ornament their hair, to powder and perfume their skin, and to dress
them in all their finery.

To Mr. Darcy went the privilege of first
viewing the outcome of these efforts. When he finally gained
admittance to his wife’s dressing room, he stopping short at the
sight of her. Elizabeth watched his countenance carefully, anxious
for a clear sign of approval. She was left in suspense for some
time as his eyes traveled silently up and down, savoring as they
went.

At length, Darcy recovered his voice. “You
take my breath away, Elizabeth.”

A wave of delicious relief flooded through
her. Her eyes shone as she closed the space between them, threw her
arms about her husband’s neck, and impetuously kissed him, long and
with enthusiasm.

At his first opportunity, Darcy interrupted
her. “Although this is …
exceedingly
agreeable, Lizzy, I
must recommend that you disengage yourself … while you still can.
The careful arrangement of your hair and attire are every moment in
more serious jeopardy. If you persist in tempting me, I shall not
be answerable for my actions.”

Elizabeth laughed and released him. “Were it
not for the dozens of guests about to arrive on our doorstep, you
would never escape so easily, sir.”

“Nor would you, madam, I assure you,” Darcy
murmured. “Now, I have something for you.” Reaching into his
pocket, he brought out a small lacquered box and opened it.

“Oh, Darcy, how exquisite!” Elizabeth gasped,
astonished by the sight of the magnificent amethyst and diamond
pendant within.

He took the jewel-encrusted ornament and
fastened it about her neck, where it settled just below the hollow
of her ivory throat. “It was my mother’s, a present from my father.
I have been waiting for the right time to give it to you. I thought
you should have it tonight, my love,” he said as he stepped back to
admire the competed picture. “Yes, that is its rightful place.”

“It is simply stunning, darling. Thank you,”
Elizabeth said gazing in the mirror. Then a shadow crossed her
face. “But Georgiana; should this not go to her? It was
her
mother’s and this is
her
birthday.”

“You are good to think of her, but there is
no need. Georgiana inherited the rest of my mother’s jewels. This
piece was left specifically to me, the intent being that I should
bestow it on my wife, and that it would eventually pass to our
son’s wife, staying in the Darcy line,” he explained.”

“Well, that is fortunate indeed,” Elizabeth
said lightheartedly, “for I have already grown quite attached to
it. I would not have given it up cheerfully, despite what I said.
Now I shall wear it without the least pang of conscience.”

Elizabeth’s scruples thus swept away, the
pair proceeded down the corridor to collect Georgiana. She emerged
from her room flushed and in fine form, her elegant figure set off
by the blue silk gown specially made for the occasion. Darcy
experienced a revelation at the vision before him. Unconsciously
expecting an adolescent girl to come forth, he was presented with a
handsome, fully-grown woman in her stead. As before, with his wife,
Darcy required a moment before responding with praise similarly
concise and heartfelt.

Georgiana’s glowing countenance evinced her
pleasure in her brother’s approbation. Yet, the next minute, as the
trio turned to start downstairs, she froze.

“Good heavens, Georgiana. What is the
matter?” Darcy asked.

“Oh dear,” she said, clasping her fingers
together to stop their trembling. “I thought my nerves were under
control, but now that the time is at hand, my courage deserts me.
All these people assembling on my account – it is both flattering
and terrifying. With everybody’s eyes on me, I am sure to make some
awful blunder.”

“You are a Darcy, Georgiana. Remember that
and all will be well,” her brother told her firmly, only adding to
her consternation.

Elizabeth’s comments were more germane. “Look
at it this way, dear. Tonight you will be surrounded by dozens of
people who love you and who already think you are wonderful. You
have nothing to prove to us, and no possibility of disappointing
our expectations. As for the rest, they will no doubt be more
concerned with making a good impression on
you
than the
other way round. So you needn’t be afraid of them either.”

Georgiana collected herself, straightened,
and said, “Yes, you are quite right. I am ready now.”

As they descended the grand staircase, it
occurred to Elizabeth that she would do well to listen to her own
sage advice, as she was by then uncomfortably aware of a distinct
fluttering of nervous tension within herself.

 

~*~

 

When the three Darcys descended, the Bingleys
and Kitty Bennet, who had stayed on at Heatheridge after Christmas,
were just arriving. With them came a person uninvited and rather
less welcome: Lydia Wickham. Darcy and Elizabeth, instantly on
alert, strained to ascertain whether or not her husband accompanied
her. Fortunately, he was nowhere to be seen.

After the first flush of greetings, which
included Mrs. Wickham with careful politeness, Jane drew Elizabeth
aside. “Forgive me, Lizzy, for catching you off guard. We were
expecting the Wickhams, of course, but not for a few more days.
When they arrived late yesterday and Lydia heard about our plans
for tonight, she begged to come along. Apparently, it has been some
time since she has attended a ball of any sort, and you know how
she adores dancing. I could not say no, although I wish I would
have had time to forewarn you. Do you mind terribly?”

“Not for myself. Georgiana’s comfort and
happiness are my only concerns tonight; nothing must be allowed to
spoil her evening. I doubt she will be much offended by Lydia’s
mere presence, but I pray our sister will not make a spectacle of
herself, as she has such a talent for doing. God forbid she should
mention Wickham’s name in Georgiana’s hearing.”

“She has promised to be on her very best
behavior, and I will hold her to her word.”

“That is an audacious claim, Jane. I suspect
it is not in your power, or even Lydia’s, to govern her conduct
with any security. Still, I suppose we must hope for the best.”

As they rejoined the others, Mr. Bingley was
saying, “The house looks marvelous, Darcy, and I am quite certain I
have never seen so many candles alight in one place before.” Darcy
accepted the compliment, and the gentlemen moved off to peruse the
well-lit ballroom.

With the five ladies left to their own
conversation, Lydia giggled slyly. “What do you think of Jane,
Lizzy? Has she not grown since you last saw her?”

“I hardly know, Lydia. All
I
noticed
was that her gown is very becoming.”

“Are you well, Jane?” asked Georgiana.

“Yes, quite well. I only worry that my
condition may already be too conspicuous. I thought perhaps I had
better have stayed at home, but I did not wish to miss your
party.”

“I am honored that you came,” Georgiana
replied. “And Kitty, I am pleased to see you again as well. Are you
looking forward to dancing tonight?”

“Oh, yes! I love dancing above all things. I
do so hope there will be enough interesting partners to keep all
the ladies entertained.”

“That you will find your partners
entertaining, Kitty, I cannot guarantee, since it is a matter of
personal taste,” said Elizabeth. “But as to number, there can be no
difficulty. There will be more than enough eligible men to go
round. You must promise not to keep them all to yourself, however.
It is Georgiana’s birthday, you know, and she must have her fair
share.”

“She shall have her share, and welcome. After
all, I can only dance with one man at a time, more is the
pity.”

The sound of horse hooves and carriage wheels
grating on the sweep drew the Darcys to their stations, and
presently a stream of elegantly dressed and carefully coiffed
individuals began issuing through the front door. Each new arrival
gradually enlarged the pool of people milling about. The house soon
reverberated with an agreeable hum of chatter, music, and laughter
as everyone waited for the official commencement of the ball.

The night had opened with the entrance of one
uninvited guest. It fell to Colonel Fitzwilliam to usher in the
second surprise of the evening. True to his promise, he had indeed
traveled all the way from Kent for Georgiana’s ball. That he made
the effort to come was not astonishing, but the lady on his arm
caught everyone quite unawares.

BOOK: The Darcys of Pemberley
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