The young, bespectacled lady bobbed a proper curtsy to the impeccably attired butler, her voice quavering slightly as she introduced herself, “Miss Austen of the Derby Chronicle. I have an interview with Mr. and Mrs. Darcy.”
Mr. Travers inclined his head. “Indeed. They are expecting you, Miss Austen. Follow me.”
He led the way across the enormous, two-storey vaulted foyer and ascended the marble, plushly carpeted staircase at a stately pace. She followed, managing to keep her head from whipping side-to-side but unsuccessful with her eyes. They constantly swiveled in a vain attempt to canvas the wealth of wonders lining the ornate walls. Yet even their curiosity ceased upon entering the parlor where Mr. Darcy stood waiting.
The rumors did not do him justice and it required every ounce of her professionalism to prevent her mouth dropping open as he crossed the room with the grace and power of a stalking lion. Or a bear, her mind amended, as the height and breadth of his body assaulted her senses when he drew close enough to incline his head in respect.
“Miss Austen,” he greeted. His resonant baritone befitted his masculine physique, but was velvety and warmed further by the soft smile he gave her. “Welcome to Pemberley. Mrs. Darcy is otherwise engaged but will join us in a moment. Please refresh yourself. If I may be forgiven in boasting, my cook is a genius and her gooseberry tarts are the finest in all of England.”
Smoothly he guided her to a comfortable settee, a footman and maid already serving tea and tarts, while he sat onto a sofa across from the low, linen draped tea table. He crossed his long legs and folded his hands onto his lap, dominating the space even in his repose.
Miss Austen opened a case, removing the lap-sized secretaire and preparing to dip her quill into the inkwell when Mr. Darcy suddenly leaned forward, shattering her regained composure.
“This is an incredibly compact secretaire. How extraordinary! Inkwell and quill drawer integrated, a clip for the parchment sheets, and carved from weightless balsa. Now if you only used steel tips you would not need to stow accessories to keep your quills sharp.”
“So it is true what they say.” She flushed at his quizzically raised brow and intense, blue-eyed gaze. “That you are fascinated by unique inventions?”
He laughed, sitting back and re-crossing his legs. “Indeed. Too much so, perhaps. My wife teases that I shall one day lose all track of time while investigating how some bizarre instrument operates and perish from starvation. Of course, I haven’t missed a meal as yet, so doubt she has ought to worry about.”
“Aside from steel-tipped pens, what other marvels have captured your particular attention?”
He swept his hand toward a high ebony carved table near the window with a tall brass-tubed instrument sitting atop. “That is a kaleidoscope I purchased directly from Sir Brewster. One of his original designs, in fact. I have several miniature musical boxes, although two are in a hopeless state of disassembly, hence why Mrs. Darcy refuses to allow me to even touch her Recordon and Jundon cylinder music box.”
“Did you disassemble the kaleidoscope as well?”
“I comprehend how it works so am able to restrain myself. With an effort, mind you,” he added with a humorous lilt. “In all truth, I do not usually take items apart. Learning of them is sufficient the majority of the time. We live in an exciting age, Miss Austen. Marvels of ingenuity are springing upon us every day.”
“Such as?” She pushed her spectacles up her nose, scribbling furiously upon the paper page.
“Have you seen a hot-air balloon? No? It would be a thrilling event to report on, Miss Austen. I am sure your readers would be dazzled by your description. Mrs. Darcy and I were fortunate to witness a launch while vacationing in Great Yarmouth this past summer. It was incredible.”
His voice took on a dreamy quality that made Miss Austen smile.
“You must forgive my husband, Miss Austen. He tends to lose all regulation when faced with something fascinating or provocative. Contrary to popular opinion he is quite the daredevil, if I did not rein him in.”
Darcy rose with a broad grin. Miss Austen turned to the speaker, who was obviously Mrs. Darcy. She was a slim woman, fairly tall if still dwarfed by her spouse, with an impish face and teasing smile. Mrs. Darcy’s gay tone and sunny disposition were apparent and the reporter felt instantly at ease.
“Have you needed to rein him in frequently then, Mrs. Darcy?”
The Mistress of Pemberley laughed, laying one hand lightly onto Mr. Darcy’s forearm. “Oh my yes! Thankfully the balloon was well into the sky so leaping into the basket was not a possibility, but I nearly called in reinforcements to prevent him jumping onto the trick horses we had for the festival!” She glanced to her spouse, who was smiling but also pink-cheeked at her teasing. “See, he is not nearly as fierce as people presume. I apologize for not greeting, but I was putting the baby to sleep.”
“Congratulations, Mr. and Mrs. Darcy, on the birth of your firstborn. I am pleased that all proceeded well.” All three resumed their seats, Mrs. Darcy sitting near her husband and expressing no outward signs of having recently gone through the ordeal of childbirth. In fact, she was radiant.
“Thank you, Miss Austen. Yes, life has been promising and joyous. We are thankful that difficulties have been few.”
“Aside from tumbles down ravines, duels, poachers, mill fires, murder at an inn, and attacks from bandits, you mean?”
Mr. Darcy scowled as a dark cloud passed over his handsome features.
Mrs. Darcy, on the other hand, laughed gaily with only a hint of a tremor. “Even the most blessed life is fraught with the occasional mishap. Fortunately we have weathered difficulties since the very beginning of our relationship, thus learning how to deal with the travails tossed in our path.”
“Really? Such as?” The reporter asked, quill poised over the paper and avidly listening.
“It is far too lengthy to recount here, I am afraid. Why, it is enough drama for a novel!”
“Hmmm, how interesting. Perhaps I should contact my cousin. She aspires to be a novelist.”
“Oh, I do not think….”
“A woman novelist?” Mrs. Darcy interrupted her husband, leaning forward. “How extraordinary. Does she write romantic stories with prideful crossed lovers and prejudiced attitudes?”
“Indeed! Her name is Jane Austen and I think your tale may be just what she is looking for.”
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