The annual Twelfth Night Masquerade Ball hosted by Sir Cole of Melcourt Hall held the distinction of being the premiere Derbyshire event, and after some four decades it was unlikely to be supplanted as the prized social engagement. However, the Darcys of Pemberley had in recent years acquired a reputation for hosting parties that were highly memorable if not necessarily as lavish or grandiose compared to most. The Summer Festival re-instituted by Mrs. Darcy the first year of her marriage to Mr. Darcy was now an anticipated celebration of near mythic proportions, as was the Christmas dinner and assembly given to reward their tenants and staff. Guests of the manor, whether small in number or a larger group, universally boasted of the fine cuisine, comfortable quarters, diverse pursuits, and excellent company.
And when Mr. and Mrs. Darcy choose to throw a serious party? Well, in those rare instances it was an extravaganza indeed! Such was the current case with the ball well underway even as carriages continued to drive across the bridge and advance slowly up the gravel avenue toward the brightly lit portico of Pemberley Manor. Anticipation was extreme amongst all the fortunate invitees for a plethora of reasons, not the least of which was the scheduled concerto performance by Mr. Darcy’s sister Georgiana and her husband.
“How is she?”
“Nervous, of course.” Elizabeth Darcy answered her husband’s concerned question truthfully, following with a soft laugh. “She is a Darcy after all and therefore being the focus of attention is not a pleasantly anticipated situation. I should ask the same of you, my love. How are you holding up under the imminent requirement to deliver an introductory speech while hundreds of eyes are trained upon you? If Georgiana faints from the stress her strong husband can catch her. I fear I cannot promise the same if you faint.”
Darcy grunted and shook his head. “Tease. I have never fainted in my life and shan’t now, my dread of public speaking notwithstanding. You are safe. A bolstering kiss is appreciated, however.”
She complied, lifting on her tiptoes to deliver a brief peck to his lips. “That must suffice as it is time and additional delay will only increase Georgiana’s trembling.”
Moments later the assembled guests fell quiet as Mr. Darcy entered the ballroom from a side door and crossed until standing by a grand piano on a raised dais near the orchestra. Despite his wife’s jest based on his typical discomfort in addressing large crowds, he felt scant anxiety. Pride and delight overcame his natural reticence. Thus with a warm smile of welcome and firm voice he launched into his prepared introduction.
“Ladies and gentlemen, Mrs. Darcy and I wish to again thank you for your presence tonight at Pemberley for this special occasion. Three years ago my sister was married, and together with her husband she relocated to Paris to study at the Conservatoire de Musica. Now, after completing their formal education and travels abroad for performances and study with the greatest composers and musicians in Europe, they are home. Tonight we are the fortunate recipients of their combined talents at composition and musical performance. Please join me in welcoming the Viscount and Viscountess of Nell.”
He swept his arm toward the far wall where two wide double doors were opened in unison by two footman as the guests turned toward the threshold. Applause rose to the glittering chandeliers, greeting the handsome couple that appeared arm in arm. For the span of several heartbeats they paused, the dramatic entrance obviously a clever maneuver instigated by the viscount rather than the viscountess.
His lordship beamed, his crooked smile dazzling and grey eyes twinkling, whereas the statuesque woman at his side was blushing, her smile demure and blue eyes shyly peeking at the mass of people parting to clear a pathway for them.
For Georgiana traversing the massive chamber toward the makeshift stage was equal parts terrifying and thrilling. The confidence of her husband – he who did not possess a single cell of nervousness – calmed her to a degree, as did his softly whispered words of assurance and steady press of his hand lying atop hers where it clenched his forearm. The smiling faces of her brother, Lizzy, and others of her family and close acquaintance, all of whom stood closest to the platform, aided the loosening of her internal knots.
“Inhale deeply and then exhale,” Sebastian instructed as they stepped onto the stage. “You shall be phenomenal as you always are. The Butlers together and creating beautiful music.”
Georgiana looked upward into his eyes. In those seconds before turning to bow to the assembly she discerned the love, hints of desire, joy, and above all the supreme faith he held. It was enough to quell the rush of panic and dim the voice inside her head screaming that she had forgotten every note and lyric. It was enough to avoid total paralysis preventing her limbs from functioning as they assumed their places on the wooden bench with fingers resting on the black and white keys.
From there it was easy. Playing the piano with her husband was as natural as breathing. Even dressed in formal attire inside an echoing ballroom with a hundred plus onlookers it was as if they were alone in their private chambers sitting at the small pianoforte frequently utilized as inspiration struck.
As evidenced by the hearty applause and raucous cheers, the thirty minute concerto of music and singing was universally enjoyed. Shouts of “Bravo!” rang out, the admiration showing little sign of decreasing until Mr. and Mrs. Darcy ascended the stage.
“Pemberley shall henceforth boast that it was here the famous Lord and Lady Nell performed their first concert on English soil,” Darcy boomed, his resonant baritone piercing through the clapping and bringing it to a gradual end. “As a token of our gratitude, both for the entertainment and for the bragging rights,” he paused for the inevitable laughter, “we present you with this gift as an eternal reminder of this day and our esteem.”
He gestured to Colonel Fitzwilliam and Dr. George Darcy, the men grabbing onto a medium-sized table draped with a white linen cloth covering the hidden item underneath and carrying it to where Georgiana and Sebastian stood.
“A year ago Mrs. Darcy and I journeyed to Austria where my sister and her husband were residing. While there I secretly copied one of their compositions, a particular one that I not only personally love, but was also one of their original collaborations. Enlisting the services of a skilled craftsman, we now present this gift to Lord and Lady Nell.”
With a dramatic flourish Darcy removed the cloth, revealing a gleaming wood and glass cylinder musical box. He lifted the lid and with a twist of the handle tinkling music poured forth. The crystalline notes of the alternating simple and complex sonata awed the crowd and brought tears to the eyes of Georgiana and Sebastian.
None argued that the concerto was the highlight of the Pemberley Ball. As the fame of Sebastian and Georgiana grew in the years to follow, Darcy did indeed boast of his association with brotherly pride. Guests of Pemberley were ofttimes treated to virtuoso performances, a gathering inevitable whenever the world traveling musicians were visiting.
As for the music box, it remained at Whistlenell Hall, the ancestral estate of the Essenton earldom, inhabiting a place of prominence in the main parlor where generations would crank the handle and listen to the sweet tune written by two people while in the bloom of their love.
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