Loving Mr. Darcy: Journeys Beyond Pemberley is the second volume in my sequel series to Pride and Prejudice. Resuming where Mr. and Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy ended, the first year of the Darcys’ marriage is recounted in detail.
The chapter I am sharing here is #9, “Darcy House Affairs.”
For more information on this novel, click over to this page: http://sharonlathanauthor.com/…..g-mr-darcy
Chapter 9 ~ Darcy House Affairs
The three days following Lizzy’s birthday extravaganza were a whirlwind of activity. If it were not for Darcy’s constant concern and vigilance over Lizzy’s and the baby’s health, she could well have occupied eighteen out of each twenty-four hours with a myriad of pursuits. In actuality, as Lizzy was entering her fourth month of pregnancy, the symptoms faded dramatically. Her fatigue was blessedly a phenomenon of the past. Lizzy had decided that she would gladly embrace faintness, headaches, and nausea if they replaced weakness; her temperament was quite simply unable to cope with lethargy and inaction. Fortunately, her queasiness, raging hunger, and lightheadedness were also passing. Upon occasion, she would briefly experience a fleeting unsettled stomach and her appetite was mildly increased from previously, but it was controlled and in no way caused her distress.
It required another two weeks of convincing before her husband would finally accredit the truth of her state and relent to his oft-frustrating solicitude and anxiety. In the interim, Lizzy did pace herself and manage to rest as feasible. Of course, since all her friends and family knew of her condition, not to mention Darcy’s lack of humor and severity regarding his wife’s welfare, Lizzy would not have been allowed to overextend if she had wished it.
Therefore, her new gowns were acquired in easy stages, interspersed with relaxing teas at the houses of her friends or Darcy House. Darcy had encouraged her to plan ahead, purchasing as many outfits as she would need to accommodate her blossoming shape. Madame Millicent, the modiste who had created her birthday gown, was extremely clever. She skillfully designed dresses that were stylish yet sewn with unique gathers and folds specifically for the pregnant body. By the time they returned to Pemberley in July, Lizzy would have plenty of dresses, undergarments, and nightwear to clothe her well into the fall. For winter wear, when she would primarily be confined indoors, Madame du Loire would provide.
She purchased the occasional baby article, generally clothing, but discovered that she was hesitant to do so. It was fairly odd. Georgiana, especially, was forever gushing over some tiny item, and if she had it her way, they would require three more carriages simply to haul the items back to Pemberley! Amelia, naturally, was purchasing infant paraphernalia in abundance. At one point, she gently and privately asked Lizzy if her reluctance was due to fear of miscarriage. Lizzy was frankly amazed, not at the question, but at the fact that it had never once occurred to her that she might yet lose her baby. It certainly was not an uncommon event, sadly, yet after her accident and the weeks of subsequent incertitude, Lizzy had not once even entertained the idea.
Amelia’s question generated a period of introspection. As Lizzy pondered her qualms, she finally realized that it was not that she did not wish to buy the baby’s clothing and other necessaries. Rather, she did not want to buy them in London.
“You see,” she told Darcy that evening, “I know it is probably ridiculous, but I want to obtain our baby’s needs from Derbyshire. Pemberley is our home and will be our children’s home. Somehow it does not feel right or proper to buy things here, so far away.” She shook her head, reddening in mild embarrassment. “Anyway, silly as it is, that is how I feel about it and pregnant women are allowed to be nonsensical!”
Darcy was gazing at her quizzically, in that odd enigmatic way he had, with the tiny lilt to his lips. “Elizabeth, come here.” He held out his hands and she joined him on the sofa. He kissed her brow. “Beloved, everything you do amazes me and causes my heart to grow fuller with love. Yet, there are those times when you say or do something so astounding that it is nigh on unbearable in how it moves me. This is one of those times. That you would have such strong emotions regarding Pemberley and Derbyshire after so short a span of time is deeply pleasing to me. Your sentiments are not the least bit silly. Or if they are, then I am as silly because I concur. We have plenty of time to provide our child’s needs and we will do it together from home.”
Despite Darcy’s continued attentiveness and desire to remain by Lizzy’s side during those first weeks, he nonetheless was forced to attend to an onslaught of business affairs. Prior to his marriage, Darcy had dwelt more than half a year in Town. This year, instead, Mr. Keith had traveled to London for three sojourns over the long winter and spring, and Darcy’s solicitor, Mr. Daniels, had power-of-attorney over several interests. Letters and documents arrived at Pemberley’s doors and departed with steady frequency, both private couriers and Royal mail reaping financial benefit from Mr. Darcy’s choice to sequester himself with his new bride. With this organization, Darcy had delightfully dwelt at Pemberley while the complicated and extensive ventures which generated the Darcy wealth were handled smoothly. Nonetheless, although he had diligently arranged for the longer interval in Derbyshire, there was an abundant array of enterprises and legal issues which now required his personal involvement.
So, while Lizzy shopped and socialized, Darcy worked. He did manage to visit his Club, White’s, on several afternoons. To some degree this was a business requirement as a great multitude of deals were transacted, associations were formed, and information was shared over billiards, brandy, and cigars. It was also a necessity for Darcy to engage in frequent strenuous physical activity. Although perfectly content to sit for hours with a book in his hand, Darcy equally craved working up a sweat. Therefore, he patronized Angelo’s Fencing Academy and went horseback riding at one of the equine centers as often as possible.
Nevertheless, no matter how engrossed they were in their individual ventures, they reunited by late afternoon and unfailingly spent the entire night together. Nearly every evening they were committed beyond Darcy House at a dinner engagement, the theatre, or soiree; however, they did ensure some solitary time. The calling cards and invitations began in earnest after Lizzy’s official appearance on Darcy’s arm at the opera. Prior to that event, Lizzy exclusively passed the day with her friends. She was so busy, and naïve regarding the mores of society, that the absence of invitations did not registered in her consciousness. Eventually, it would be brought to her attention, but that part of the story shall be revealed later, as will her presentation at the opera.
For two weeks Lizzy was joyously content. Her only difficulty during those first weeks occurred right at Darcy House.
The fourth day after her birthday, a week after arriving at Darcy House, Lizzy finagled the entire morning to herself. After a romantic morning with her husband and breakfast with the girls, Lizzy retired to the library. Darcy departed for an appointment with a fellow horse breeder and the girls disappeared to the parlor with Mrs. Annesley.
Immediately, Lizzy asked one of the footmen, Thomason, to send for Mrs. Smyth. Lizzy’s initial illness followed by her bounteous schedule had precluded the opportunity to candidly chat with the housekeeper of Darcy House as she had with Mrs. Reynolds. An uncomfortable barrier had risen between the two for reasons that frankly evaded Lizzy’s understanding. She was polite but cool, avoided eye contact with Lizzy, and when their gazes locked, seemed vaguely disapproving. She granted Lizzy’s requests hesitantly and as if burdened, and had resisted Marguerite’s inclusion and needs for her Mistress. Darcy had noted it as well and was very angry but had succumbed to Lizzy’s pleading to allow her to deal with it as was appropriate as Mistress.
Her necessary interview with Mrs. Smyth did not begin well, as she took thirty minutes to respond to Lizzy’s summons. That alone would have angered Darcy beyond reason and Lizzy was peeved as well, but she kept her emotions in check not wishing to start the conversation with a negative bent. She was further challenged to maintain her calm, as when Mrs. Smyth did appear, she knocked perfunctorily on the door as she opened it. Six months ago this may not have even registered, but after living with the extreme propriety and discipline of the Pemberley staff, Lizzy was fully cognizant of the purposeful slight.
“You asked for me, Mrs. Darcy?”
“Yes. Please have a seat, Mrs. Smyth.” Lizzy had chosen to sit on the sofa rather than at Darcy’s desk, wishing to present an informal pose. She indicated the opposite sofa for the housekeeper.
Mrs. Smyth, however, remained standing. “If it is all the same, Madame, I prefer to stand.”
Anger flared, but Lizzy spoke quietly, “It is not what I prefer, Mrs. Smyth. Please sit.” She did so reluctantly, folding her hands and gazing vaguely over Lizzy’s right shoulder. “Mrs. Smyth, I must first apologize for having not arranged the time in my schedule to introduce myself to you in a proper and private manner. Between my illness and appointments, this has been my first unencumbered morning. Therefore, I wished for us to become better acquainted and for me to discuss several issues of concern with you.”
Mrs. Smyth met her eyes with the faint disapproving hint Lizzy had noted frequently. “It is not necessary, Mrs. Darcy. I am an employee of Mr. Darcy’s and do not deem it appropriate for us to be friends.”
“Nor do I, Mrs. Smyth. I am not referring to friendship, per se, but mutual respect and communication. Also, I must remind you that as Mistress of Darcy House, you are my employee as well.” Lizzy had not meant to be curt, but the woman was seriously beginning to annoy her.
Mrs. Smyth reddened slightly, but her lips primly pressed together and eyes flared momentarily. “Of course. Forgive me, Mrs. Darcy.”
Lizzy ignored her weakly offered contrition and continued, “Now, I understand you have been housekeeper here for approximately five years? I must praise you for managing so well. The house staff appears to operate suitably and the environment is properly maintained. Nonetheless, there are some areas I wish to address. Obviously, now that Mr. Darcy is no longer a bachelor, the household demands and procedures will alter.” She paused, noting the housekeeper’s frown. “The first and most essential modification is that I will be handling the household affairs, staffing issues, budget, and the like rather than he.”
“But,” she blurted in surprise, “Mr. Darcy has always trusted me with these decisions!”
“This has absolutely nothing to do with trust, Mrs. Smyth. Please believe me. Surely you are cognizant from your previous employments that it is the Mistress of the manor who manages the household?”
“Of course!” she declared angrily. “Yet what do you know of managing a household? We have no pigs or cows running about here!”
“Mrs. Smyth!” Lizzy was truly angry now. “You forget yourself most profoundly. If Mr. Darcy were present to hear your insult, I can assure you with absolute certainty you would this instant be unemployed. I, however, am slightly more forgiving. Only slightly, though, and you would be wise to remember that your tenuous position is under my jurisdiction.”
Mrs. Smyth was very pale and, for the first time since Lizzy had entered the house a week ago, was looking at her with some respect. “Please forgive me, Mrs. Darcy. My outburst was uncalled for.”
Lizzy inhaled deeply, finally resuming, “Mrs. Smyth, as rude and hideously misplaced as your slur against my character was, I will concur that I do not have years of experience in totally managing all aspects of a household. Be that as it may, I have learned speedily and comprehensively from both Mr. Darcy and Mrs. Reynolds. As at Pemberley, I judge the task as a partnership of sorts. Ultimately, Mr. Darcy and I are in control, but we both trust your expertise as evidenced by five years of stellar execution. I had intended to approach my discussion with you in this vein and attempted to do so, if you recall.”
Mrs. Smyth’s head was bowed and she seemed truly distressed. Lizzy, however, did not relent. “You have placed a quandary before me. When I reveal what has transpired here with Mr. Darcy, he will be seriously vexed. Your opinion of me and my qualifications may be nominal, but I can assure you his are not. I cannot promise what his reaction will be, as he is already irritated by your manner this past week and only my pleading has prevented his action. How you behave through the remainder of this audience coupled with your ready acceptance and execution of my wishes will greatly affect your future here at Darcy House. Do you understand and accept this? If not, then speak now and save us both wasting our time.”
Mrs. Smyth struggled to form words, finally expressing penitence. Lizzy tended to believe her sincere, but there remained an edge that she could not quite identify. For now, though, she decided to let it pass.
The conference continued for over an hour. Marguerite was to have free access to all areas of the house and granted instantaneously anything she requested for her Mistress. One of the maids, Helen, was to be brought immediately before Mrs. Darcy, as she specifically had been rude and obstructive to Marguerite, even vilifying her personally with anti-French aspersions. Mrs. Smyth was commanded to uphold any decree rendered by Mrs. Darcy regarding Helen or anything else for that matter. All menu decisions were to be made by Lizzy, starting with the detailed list for today’s picnic luncheon Lizzy planned with her sisters and friends, and for that evening’s party with the Bingleys and Lathrops. The housekeeper demurred over some of the mandated edibles, Lizzy simply stating that she had hours to ensure their inclusion.
The library was determined to be far too dusty, only routinely cleaned once a month. Lizzy ordered it to hereafter be thoroughly scoured each week. Mrs. Smyth balked at this, declaring they did not have the manpower. This led to Lizzy’s next demand: to review all the staff duties and records. If additional staff was needed, then they would be provided. Mrs. Smyth was definitely not pleased with this nor was she pleased when Lizzy requested to see the past six months worth of household ledgers. Yet, she did not argue; displeasure was only evident in her eyes and sternly pressed lips.
As she rose to leave, Lizzy spoke, “One more point, Mrs. Smyth. When I summon you, I will expect you to respond in a timely manner and to await my permission before entering.”
To suggest that Darcy was vexed would be a monumental understatement! As Lizzy related what had transpired between she and Mrs. Smyth, Darcy’s eyes darkened to blue-black and jaw clenched so tightly his lips nearly disappeared. Lizzy had witnessed her husband in an extreme temper on a handful of occasions, and it was a chilling sight to behold. She honestly believed he could freeze boiling water with a glance.
He listened to her without interrupting, rising silently when she finished to pull the servant’s bell. A footman responded instantly, and Darcy calmly requested the immediate presence of Mr. Travers and Mrs. Smyth. The footman bowed, but the brief flash in his eyes as he turned left no doubt that even he had sensed the repressed rage in his Master’s icy voice.
“William, perhaps we should talk some more—” Lizzy began but ceased at the sharp gesture from her spouse. Lizzy had learned that Darcy was without a doubt one of the kindest, gentlest, and most gracious and loving men on the planet. She had equally ascertained that he could be ruthless, uncompromising, dictatorial, and domineering. One was a total fool to cross the Master of Pemberley. Lizzy was not a fool. In addition, she recognized clearly and with complete trust that this was a situation he was more than capable of handling and that it was his duty to do so.
When Mr. Travers and Mrs. Smyth entered the room mere seconds later, it was obvious that the former was confused at the abrupt summons whereas the latter was abundantly aware. Darcy was sitting behind his desk with Lizzy standing to his right.
In a deceptively mild tone, Darcy asked, “Do either of you have any doubts or reservations as to my supreme authority in this house?”
Mr. Travers was shocked. “Of course not, Mr. Darcy!”
Mrs. Smyth was pale as a ghost and trembling. “No, Mr. Darcy.”
“Very good. I shall be as intelligible and succinct as I possibly can be. Mrs. Darcy is of near equal stature and authority to me in every single aspect. Her dictates are law, to be respected and executed as you would for me. She is the Mistress of Pemberley and Darcy House, and is to be honored as this station decrees. Any deviation from this reality, even in the minutest degree, will be grounds for instantaneous dismissal. Is any of this ambiguous?”
His penetrating and fierce gaze bore into Mrs. Smyth throughout the entire speech. Mr. Travers may be ignorant of the specific instigation of his Master’s statement, but he was no idiot. That Mrs. Smyth had in some manner foolishly acted on or vocalized her disdain for Mr. Darcy’s choice of wife was obvious. Mr. Travers did not concur with the housekeeper’s opinion and had grown weary of cautioning her. He hesitated nary a second, loudly and precisely confirming his comprehension and loyalty. Mrs. Smyth readily agreed as well, voice tremulous.
“I shall leave it to each of you to inform the members of your staff as to what has been proclaimed here. Mr. Travers, you may be excused.” He bowed and departed. Darcy rose to his feet, eyes never faltering. “Mrs. Smyth, there are two reasons you are not at this second packing your belongings and exiting this house. One is your years of faithful and competent service to Darcy House, of which I am thankful. However, this reason would hold little weight in light of today’s events if Mrs. Darcy had not already granted you mercy. She has deemed to bestow her clemency and I will bow to this. Be warned, this mercy will be withdrawn at the merest hint of you disobeying my orders. Is this understood?”
The relationship between Lizzy and Mrs. Smyth would never be a friendly one and the housekeeper offered her challenges. There were moments when Lizzy did wonder if it would be easier to fire the woman and start anew, but in the end, she did manage the household excellently, and as the Darcys would not be dwelling in the city often, it was best to maintain the status quo.
Generally speaking, Lizzy needed to make few adjustments to the management of Darcy House. The ledgers were in perfect order and the staff assignments were adequate. An additional gardener was hired to assist the two who managed the grounds. Lizzy spoke at length with them, as there were a number of areas she wanted altered. Specifically she completely redesigned the private garden and patio located via the Master’s chambers to include a gurgling fountain, potted and hanging flowers, a vine of wisteria along the right edge for further privacy, and extensive trimming of the large elm tree that blocked their view of the nighttime sky. The old brick wall was removed and replaced with one of cobbled river stones to match the patio and a wrought iron gate placed to access the meandering gravel pathways beyond.
Lizzy interviewed each lead staff member. She encouraged open communication and before her first sojourn would end, each one of them accepted the honesty of her offer, and learned when she was approached with requests, most of which were granted. Mrs. Smyth frowned upon what she deemed a usurping of her power, but Lizzy ignored her. Minor budget issues were addressed. Darcy had tended to allow Mrs. Smyth to spend as she saw fit, generously allotting monies without asking too many questions. This was not a result of mismanagement or laziness on his part, but as the overall budget for Darcy House was substantially less than Pemberley, he simply did not consider it worth worrying about. Lizzy was frugal by nature and due to her upbringing, instinctively noticed dozens of tiny ways that funds could be redistributed. The end product was a savings to the estate while simultaneously leading to a smoother household execution. Even Mrs. Smyth grudgingly admitted the fact. Darcy was further amazed, and his already exalted esteem for his wife grew.
Helen, to Lizzy’s dismay, was unrepentant. It seemed that a brother died in the recently triumphant difficulties with France. As sad as this fact was, it certainly was not Marguerite’s fault. France may be the country of her birth, but she had lived the past 20 years in England, longer than Helen, in truth, as she was a mere seventeen! In this matter, she appealed to her husband.
“She cannot stay with an attitude such as this,” Darcy declared calmly. “I will not allow Marguerite to be treated thus, and one maid is much the same as any other. I will take care of it.”
Lizzy squirmed in her seat, finally standing to pace before his desk. “William, I…” She sighed, wringing her hands nervously while he frowned. “I should deal with this myself. Mistress of Pemberley and all that.” She waved her hand airily with a tiny giggle.
Darcy smiled, rising to halt her pacing with gentle hands on her shoulders. “Elizabeth, you do not have to handle this sort of problem. Trust me, I have let many employees go over the years. I am quite good at it, in fact.” He laughed and kissed her forehead.
Lizzy shook her head with a soft chuckle. “Somehow I doubt that, love. You bluster and pretend, but facing a seventeen year old girl and telling her she is out of a job will not be easy for you.” She tiptoed to kiss his cheek and then moved a pace away before continuing. “That is not the point. Household staff is under my jurisdiction and since this directly concerns my personal maid, I need to cope with it. Just teach me how such a matter is properly dealt with, advise me, and I will manage it.”
“Very well, Mistress Darcy.” He took her hand and pulled her next to him on the sofa. “I will gladly share my brutal techniques, but first let me tell you once again how marvelous you are and how proud you make me.” He nuzzled into her neck, Lizzy giggling anew at the ticklish bites.
“This is a brutal technique, Mr. Darcy? I certainly hope not a typical tactic utilized by you when firing maids.” Darcy merely laughed, tickling further and saving the Masterly counsel for a later hour.
Lizzy attended to the matter with fortitude and dignity. Only later did she break down with trembles, comforted by her husband who was immeasurably swollen with pride. It was another step taken by the new Mrs. Darcy into the greater world of estate administration.
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