I posted this on Austen Authors today, but decided to share it here as well. This month my muse has deluged me with ideas too good to ignore, so instead of my usual two works in progress, I have no less than four. I was going to give you an excerpt from the WIP that I’m trying to focus on, but then my muse laid down a challenge for me. I’d just seen a powerful play about a good marriage turned bad by personal tragedy, and that’s not the kind of marriage that I want to think about. So out popped this little vignette, completely unlike anything I’ve ever written before, and I have no idea if it’s any good or not. That’ll have to be your decision!
With satisfaction, Darcy scanned the crowd of friends and family gathered in the Pemberley dining room. It had been a good day. Darcy approved of the young lady of good family to whom Thomas was now safely married. Her impertinence sometimes dismayed him, but she reminded him of his Elizabeth when he had first met her, before he knew the warm heart that lay under her teasing. But it was good that Thomas’ bride had spirit; even as a baby, he had been the most energetic of their four children, the one who always spotted trouble and managed to find the messiest part of it. The army had settled Thomas a little, but still, his wife would have her work cut out for her.
The wedding breakfast was proceeding without a hitch. The new housekeeper whom Elizabeth had hired seemed to know her job, although it was odd to have a housekeeper who was younger than he himself was. He still missed old Mrs. Reynolds, who had retired not long after Elizabeth found her feet as Mistress of Pemberley. It had not been an easy transition for his own bride; several times in the first months of their marriage he had found her in tears of frustration over learning some aspect of the work she was required to oversee. Of course, she had mastered the complex role as quickly as anyone could expect, but then again he had known she would. Those few servants who had been foolish enough to question that when the new Mrs. Darcy arrived had found themselves rapidly replaced by Mrs. Reynolds, who allowed no criticism of his choice of bride.
He shifted as close to Elizabeth as her voluminous skirts would permit, thinking for the thousandth time how much he wished for a return of the fashions of their youth. Girls might look pretty enough in these modern dresses with their bell-shaped skirts buoyed out by masses of petticoats and their waists constricted to an unnaturally tiny size, but he missed those high-waisted gowns that had fallen so naturally along Elizabeth’s form. How he had loved watching her in them, the thin muslin clinging to her shapely body, the translucent fabric exposing just a hint of the shape of her legs. He pitied the young men of today, condemned never to catch a glimpse of a woman’s true shape except in the most intimate moments. Thank heaven Elizabeth had never adopted the full modern regalia. Her public dresses were fashionable, but she managed to look lovely despite keeping her corset comfortably loose, and, knowing his preferences, she often dispensed with some of the petticoats when they sat together in the privacy of their rooms. And she was still lovely, after all these years, with four children grown and a world changed beyond recognition.
How unimaginable all of this would have been to him in those early days! Had the world ever before altered so much in the course of one generation? Theirs had begun in a bucolic world, and now they were surrounded by the new industrial age. The huge factories in Manchester and Birmingham, the ugly railroads that were springing up everywhere, the influx of the poor into the cities where they became poorer still, forced to endure terrible conditions until they were near collapse from exhaustion. Oh, he could admit that it was pleasant to be able to reach London from Pemberley in a day, forgoing the jolting ride of carriages over rutted roads for two or three days at a time, and not having to worry about changing the horses or the quality of the coaching inns. Still, he did not like being locked up in the noisy box of a train car, even the elegant first class ones. He likely would never have boarded one in the first place had it not been for Elizabeth’s urging. She loved new experiences, and he loved to give her the pleasure of them. Giving her pleasure was still one of his greatest joys.
Of course, he had not always been able to protect her from unhappiness. The tears and depression that had followed the death of little Emma, just three months old, had seemed to last forever, and he had not known how to help her, just when she had needed him the most. But life had gone on, and another disaster had brought them together again – that cursed year of 1816, when they had to work together for the sake of Pemberley, through famine and a smallpox epidemic. The Irish Disease had come close on its heels, carrying off many of their servants, and for a time they had feared for Georgiana’s life. Thank God they had managed somehow to keep the tenants of Pemberley fed when the harvests had failed! That was when he congratulated himself on choosing such an intelligent and capable wife whom he could depend on as a helpmate rather than a society miss without a thought in her head.
He chuckled at the idea that he had chosen to marry Elizabeth – his need for her in the early days had been more like a force of nature – causing his wife to give him a quizzical glance. Patting her hand to assure her all was well, he smiled into her eyes that were every bit as fine as when they had first met. Her hair might be threaded with silver now, but he could still see the laughing, teasing, bewitching girl he had married all those years ago when she tilted her head in that special way of hers, an arch curve to her lips. When she had first accepted his hand, he had believed that no man could ever love a woman more than he did at that moment, but he had been a callow youth. Passion and fascination were powerful, but they were nothing to the love that grew over the years, improving like brandy with age.
So much had changed, but some things never would. He leaned close to her and said softly, “In vain have I struggled. It will not do. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.” Her eyes lit up, and he felt the power of their bond, which had survived misunderstandings, great joy and equally great pain. She was, indeed, a woman well worth pleasing.